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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The difference between pain and PAIN

Image from Flickr, by CGehlen
"No pain, no gain."

We've all heard it, and to some extent, it's true.  If you're training hard, you're going to feel a little pain.  You'll feel the burn of your muscles, and you'll fee soreness the next day.  Unfortunately, the "no pain, no gain" attitude can also result in a very different kind of pain.

One of the most important lesson a novice trainer can learn is the difference.

The "burn" of your muscles while exercising is the result of lactic acid coming into your muscles.  This is perfectly normal, and it's something that many people grow to welcome as a sign that they're really hitting the mark with their lift.

When you exercise, you're causing microscopic damage to the muscles.  As soon as the damage starts, your body goes into repair mode.  The body is trying to adapt to the new loads you're placing on it.  That's why a dumbbell bench press with 15 lbs in each hand might be exhausting today, but in a couple of weeks, it's nothing.  The flip side of this is that your muscles are sore during the repair process.  Yeah, they hurt.

However, that's just a little pain.  In fact, you may eventually welcome this pain as a good friend.  Personally, I love the feeling of being a bit sore the day after a good workout.  This isn't unusual among fitness folks either.

What you need to watch out for is injury.  Every exercise program has the potential for injury.  This is especially true if you don't focus on proper form with your lifting exercises.  You know what injury is.  Anyone who's been on this planet for any appreciable length of time has felt that kind of pain.  You know it when you feel it.

The problems come in when you decide to be "an athlete" and work through it.  After all, didn't Jack Youngblood play football on a broken leg?  Sure.  Donovan McNabb did too.  However, both of those guys get paid to play. You don't.

It's also important to note that athletes do take time off due to injury.  Don't believe me?  Start following the injury reports from any professional sport.  It's a long list.  Back when Youngblood played, people didn't understand how an injury has to be allowed to heal properly.  Today, it's not that players aren't as tough, it's that the science is better.

For you and me though, we're not paid to play.  We're athletes, but we want to be athletes for decades to come.  That's not going to happen when you're injured.  In fact, some injuries could destroy your chances of training in many ways unless you let them rest.

"But Tom, I don't want to lose what gains I've made!"

I understand that entirely.  However, if you're losing weight, you don't actually need the exercise.  At least 80 percent of that is diet in the first place, so you'll find that you're losing weight even though you're not training.  In fact, you don't need to train if you're just wanting to lose some weight.

If you're talking about the physical gains, then yes, you're going to lose a bit.  However, if you rest like you're supposed to, you'll be back up and going in the shortest possible time.  Compare that to the losses you'll take if you exacerbate the injury and are unable to train for an extended period of time.  Doesn't seem so bad now, does it? Also, sometimes rest can actually trigger greater gains when you get back to training.  A little rest might be just what you needed.

Should you find yourself injured, you need to do a little soul searching and determine what happened.  Sometimes the problem is form.  Other times, it's over training.  In the event that it's over training, rest is exactly what you need.

The key is knowing which pain is which, and what it actually means in the long run.  

A properly performed exercise shouldn't make you feel injury-type pain.  Soreness and burn are normal, and should be welcomed to some extent.  If you feel that injury-type pain, you need to stop and seek medical attention.

It's not hard, but it needs to be said.

Any questions?

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