For many keen exercise lovers, “no pain, no gain” is a truth when it comes to reaching fitness goals. But for others, these words mean little or nothing. Is it actually true that to reach your fitness goals, you must work through the pain, or is this nothing more than a fitness myth?
With all these kinds of questions, it’s not possible to give a simple yes or no answer. But we can look at some of the areas involved in wellness and training to find out how much truth is in the idea of progress coming at a price.
Exercising to lose weight
If you are shedding weight, then there is one truism to hold on to. You need a negative calorific intake and energy balance. To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in.
The best kinds of training for those who want to be slimmer are sessions that burn a lot of calories quickly. HITT sessions, body weight training exercises and running intervals are all good for losing fat. And while it’s always good to push yourself for progress, there is no evidence to suggest that you should ever force yourself through a pain barrier.
Pain is your body’s early warning system, particularly when you start a new training plan. Any problems with ligaments, tendons and joints tend to be from overloading and not balancing the body properly. Sore muscles should be taken seriously too, and you should give your body time to rest in between training sessions.
Strength training and the pain threshold
You’ll hear the old adage “no pain, no gain” more in strength training than in weight loss programmes. There is some truth in it when it comes to building muscle. In order to force your muscles to adapt and become stronger, you must push your body out of its comfort zone.
If you’re no training intensely enough, you won’t build muscle. However, if you pish through a workout and your muscles become fatigued, then they’re forced to adapt and improve. Full-on bodybuilders often exercise until their muscles ‘fail’, which optimises their responses. However, they also give their muscles lots of time for recovery before the next session.
Unless you are an experienced bodybuilder, don’t get carried away by trying to achieve muscle failure. Instead, make sure you’re doing the exercise correctly. As soon as you can no longer hold your form, then it’s time to stop.
Stretching for maximum flexibility
While professional dancers and gymnasts might stretch beyond their pain threshold, it’s absolutely not necessary for most of us. The rule of thumb should be to stretch until you feel mild tension in your muscles. Never push it to the pain threshold.
Running beyond endurance
If you’re regularly running to the point of collapse in the belief that this will improve your speed, you’re doing the wrong thing. If you’re preparing for a specific race then you need to increase your personal best, and this can mean painful workouts. Even professionals don’t do this very often.
The most important thing for amateur runners is to increase their base level of fitness. The better this is, the more intensity you can put into your runs without causing damage to your body.
So, as we’ve seen, “no pain, no gain” applies very rarely and even then mostly to professional athletes. It is true that you need to push yourself to reach fitness goals, but it is not true that you should cause yourself pain while you’re doing it. Listening to your body and treating it appropriately is the most important thing for anyone wanting to work out for many years to come.
About Surya Gabriel Iacono
Surya G. Iacono is a fitness and wellness expert and blogger based in London, UK. Surya Iacono’s fitness blogs are aimed at keen gym-goers and exercise fans already well into their journey and looking for tips, tricks and ideas to take it to the next level.