Back to Articles...


December 7, 2004

Myth: "No Pain, No Gain". Many myths have a kernel of truth to them. It is true that maximum athletic performance requires some training that has a degree of manageable pain. It is also true that myths exaggerate, then sensationalize the truth.

All Pain, No Brains

Many coaches, athletes, and everyday exercisers are awestruck with the age-old dogma, "No Pain, No Gain".

I've worked and continue to work with athletes who are shocked to learn that feeling pain is not a normal part of daily exercise. I'm not talking about the burning pain from muscle acidity during an all-out maximal training session - that's to be expected when that kind of training is done properly.

I'm talking about daily pain in muscles or around joints. Many tell themselves that they just have to work through the pain, and that not to do so is a sign of weakness. Ironically it is a sign of weakness to continue pushing through pain because it shows a lack of the ability to reason, and that one is falling prey to their own compulsive drive.

Only 20% of all training need be "hard" and a smaller percentage of that hard training will "put the hurt on". Health and fitness exercisers never need to take their body to the limit in any exercise to make large gains in fitness. Athletes and those who choose to accept the risks involved with obtaining top performance do need to push limits when the time is right. The time is right when all base training is completed and a slow progression to high intensity training has been followed.

Maximal training sessions that cause pain and discomfort don't cause the type of pain we feel when we sprain an ankle or have a tight painful muscle, referred to as "bad pain" in exercise jargon. The so-called "good pain" associated with high intensity training feels like a burning sensation in the muscles and is accompanied by fatigue. At this point our nervous system tries to shut down our muscles in an act of self-preservation, and it is mentally challenging to overcome this auto-shutdown mechanism. For those without the experience, perceiving the difference between pushing limits in a positive way and pushing over that limit to a negative result isn't considered and the person hammers until they are exhausted.

Repeating this pattern leads to overreaching, a physical state where recovery from exercise and the ability to adapt is impaired. Often people will trap themselves in a cycle that goes between overreaching, time off, building up too fast, and back to overreaching again.

For these people, pain is a regular part of exercise, and even for days off between exercise sessions. These exercisers will even perceive that if their body does not hurt the day following hard training, that they failed and did not train hard enough. Of course this is nothing short of crazy. Pain during regular exercise is not normal, it is a sign something is wrong.

The correct course of action to take when pain is felt during regular exercise, or is excessive after exercise is to stop the exercise and not repeat it until the pain has disappeared. Go to a doctor, massage therapist, or physiotherapist to have the source of pain investigated and follow through with the recovery and rehabilitation they recommend.

Exercising through pain is a brain-dead choice. If this is you, wise up; take care of the injury or it will get worse and you will never experience your performance potential.

- Cris LaBossiere

2003-2004 Rhino Fitness

Copyright 2004 Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca