Why The No Pain No Gain Concept is Misleading

You don't have to be no pain, no gain to get more fit, there are healthier ways to see results.
Photo by: Getty Images, Thomas Barwick

As a fitness instructor, I love it all—from a power walk to high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. I love boot camps, battle ropes, and lifting heavy weights. I’m all about pushing yourself and getting a good sweat. What I don’t believe is: Pain equals gain. You can challenge yourself without hurting yourself. Yes, we need to push our bodies and get comfortable with the uncomfortable. No, we don’t need to go to war with our bodies and ignore pain.

You can get results without going extreme.

Know the difference between muscle fatigue and muscle pain. Muscle fatigue is normal after a good weight-lifting session or vigorous exercise. You are working your muscles to fatigue, or tiredness.  Put simply, you are breaking down your muscles to build them up stronger. Working toward muscle fatigue helps build up your muscle endurance. Muscle pain isn’t the same thing. Muscle pain is a signal that is something is wrong. Muscle soreness from strenuous activity or working new muscle groups can be expected and it’s normal, but pushing through pain isn’t good for your body. Muscle fatigue is that “oh man I can’t do another rep” type of feeling.  Muscle pain is that “ouch that really hurts” type of feeling. Don’t prove how tough you are by ignoring your pain. You could make your pain worse or develop an injury that will prevent you from working out altogether.

Take a recovery or active recovery day. The tissues in your muscles need time to heal after exercise breaks them down, so it’s important to give your body that recovery time to build up your muscles. Look at a recovery day as a component of your overall workout plan. If you don’t like taking a day off from exercise, take an active recovery day where you do some sort of movement, but it’s more low key than your usual workouts.

Don’t beat up the same set of muscles day after day. If you do an intense arm workout, you don’t want to do an intense arm workout the following day too. If you are going to target different muscle groups with your strength training workouts, don’t do the same muscle groups two days in a row.

Listen to your body. Your body speaks to you all the time. Do you listen to its signals? Think about it, I bet you know exactly what percentage of battery you have left on your cell phone at all times.  Do you know that about your own body’s battery?  Do you know when you need to get a recharge?  You shouldn’t get to a point where you are pushing through pain when your body is screaming at you to stop. If you are dying of thirst, get some water. If you feel worn out, take a recovery day. Do you need to stretch? Could you benefit from some yoga? You should always listen and respect your body

Have a fitness plan. To see changes in your body, extreme doesn’t have to be the answer. You just need to do four things as consistently as possible: 1.

Get a good night’s sleep most nights—seven to eight hours. 2. Eat clean. 3. Invest in some type of cardio three to six times per week. 4. Commit to strength training at a minimum of two times per week.

Cross-train.  To avoid the risk for overuse injury, work a different set of muscle groups by cross-training. When you do the same exercise repeatedly, you increase your risk for overuse injuries by putting stress on the same muscles and bones involved in that activity. When you cross-train, you increase your functional fitness—the strength and endurance you need for daily activities—as well as your performance for other workouts.

Get recovery fuel. You also need to replenish fluids your body has lost after an intense workout, and eat a healthy meal or post-workout recovery snack that includes protein, carbs and healthy fats. By re-nourishing your muscles, your body will be better prepared for your next workout.

If you don’t currently workout because you fear you have to go extreme to see results ....

Maybe you don’t currently workout because you fear you have to live at the gym to see results and you don’t want to make that kind of commitment, know that small changes in habits will lead to results. Move more. Walk more. Stand up more. Try a ten-minute workout video or a bodyweight workout you found online. Work your way up to several good strength training and cardio workouts per week. As you make healthy changes, your momentum builds and it’s easier to make more. Do something and watch how your body improves over time.

If you lean toward the extreme

Pain and injury shouldn’t be worn like badges of honor. You can still push yourself without beating yourself up by going extreme and living in pain. Your body is your one place to live—treat your home well!   

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