Does “no pain, no gain” belong in your workout routine?
Does “no pain, no gain” belong in your workout routine?
Having been an elite athlete and fitness trainer for all my working life, I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard:
“It must have been a good workout routine as I was sore the next day”
“I must have done something right as I really felt the session the next day”
“I can’t have done anything as I didn’t feel any pain the next day”
“I need to do more as I am not feeling it”
No pain no gain
. . . I’d be rich.
How many of you have experienced lunges or squats where the next 2 days you can’t sit on the toilet or walk down a flight of stairs without wincing in pain? Meanwhile saying to yourself, “Oh but I must have been doing a good thing!”
Me included. I too crumbled out of bed every morning for many years with sore back, feet, knees, muscles . . . everything. For me, this was a normal part of life. How I personally managed with this constant discomfort was to move the body, continue to train and of course the medicinal cup of coffee seemed to help.
But did ignoring the pain and discomfort in my body, by pushing through it over and over again, really get rid of the issue? Or, by continually repeating this way of dealing with it, did I simply push it deeper into my body every day? Was I brushing the pain under the carpet? And was it telling me more than I wanted to look at?
Was it just an illusion that I was healthy, fit and strong?
What if I told you that this belief, ‘a good workout routine means you have to get sore’ was not true, or importantly, not at all necessary for most people to feel fit and well?
Would you be shocked, relieved, or have a sense that your body knew this all along?
Where did the ‘no pain, no gain’ myth actually come from?
The ‘no pain no gain’ myth is a result of a commonly held belief in the fitness and sports industries, of the overarching benefits of ‘muscle overload’.
Muscle overload is a term used to describe a way of working a muscle with the intent to increase muscle strength, size and power.
Muscle overload is when we deliberately work the muscles to exhaustion; this pushes the muscle to recruit more muscle fibres so it can lift more, do more and contract harder – this is done by increasing resistance (weight), repetition or duration.
Here are some examples of how this appears in your workout routines and training programs:
Increase of repetitions – e.g. 10 to 12 to 15 …
An exercise progression – e.g. a push up on the knees will develop onto a push up on the toes.
Weight increase – same repetitions with weight increasing 10k to 12k to 15 k
Speed of contraction, eg. slow down pace of movement
Change range of movement – full range of movement, small pulses.
It’s a constant push for the body/muscle to do more. This is because the muscle becomes more efficient the more you train and therefore requires more weight to keep developing. Eg; what once felt heavy begins to feel light and so you step up to the next weight bracket. Or another example would be repeatedly trying to run 100m faster than your last Personal Best time, or doing your cycle circuit quicker or longer each time you do it. But has anyone stopped to ask ‘when is enough?’ Are we looking to be fit for life … or for an Olympic relay?
And if this belief were true – the belief we need to do more and more or our muscles won’t benefit and instead become weak and unfit – where does it end? It would be like pouring water into a cup with a hole in the bottom. We would never stop having to do more and more training . . . run further, faster, harder and lift weights that are always getting heavier.
One of the reasons ‘muscle overload’ is so popular in exercise and sport is because it is a way of training the muscle to recruit more muscle fibres by increasing its load. But with this process some of the micro fibres tear through overuse and it is this that gives you the pain the next day after your workout routine, and often even more the following day.
Yes, that’s micro muscle fibre tears, the same as muscle tears that happen in sprains and torn muscles yet on a micro level. If you’ve ever turned your ankle and sprained it you can appreciate that it hurts and takes 6 weeks to heal. Even on a micro level it hurts and takes time to heal. Does it really sound like this is necessary?
Perhaps if you are an international athlete, professional sportsperson or weight lifter, this type of training may seem necessary, but if you are someone who wants to generally feel fitter, have more energy and feel stronger, why are you pushing your body like an athlete when there is no need?
Why are you damaging the muscles on such a deep level?
Why are we inflicting pain on ourselves?
This opens a bigger discussion as to ‘why’?
Why do we want to hurt ourselves?
Why aren’t we exercising in a way that really supports the body?
Why are we pushing ourselves when we are already exhausted?
There has been much written, researched and believed about this process of muscle overload and in theory it ‘works’, yet if we feel into the state of our bodies, does it work? Yes it might work to reach exercise targets or ‘goals’, but do these goals actually serve you in your day-to-day life, to be fit for life? These targets and goals come in all different forms. You might want to reach a certain body weight or bulk or you might simply get on the treadmill and walk for a set time with a target-focussed approach that then overrides the body and its messages about what is best for the muscles.
What I know now and can share from my own lived experience is that when I pushed my body every day, and for me that was for most of my life, I felt tired –– a tired that was so deep I thought it was normal. Now I can honestly say that I exercise with my body most days in a way that honours it in every way.
If you saw me train you would see it is still physical, it is exercise and not necessarily slow or boring, it’s so much more – it’s gorgeous to feel and do. There is a quality that can be felt.
I’m sharing this as many people will read this and use it as an excuse to give up exercise and become more sedentary. But this choice is just another way to avoid being with you and avoid caring for your body. And make no mistake, this can be just as disregarding as the ‘push push push’ that has become a normal part of exercising.
Every exercise and movement I do is to feel my body, to connect to it, to deepen my relationship with this incredible vehicle that responds to love and care. I have not been ‘sore’ in years yet my body is the most vibrant and alive it has felt. I am as strong as I was, I am more agile than I was and I am fit for life more than ever.
So I invite you to take the foot off the ‘exercise accelerator’ and instead bring more respect and love to your body and see if you can feel the difference (your muscles certainly will).
For those of you that are now looking for ways to train with ‘no pain no gain’ we invite you to browse the many articles on UniMed Exercise pages.