"No Pain, No Gain" is a saying that has been thrown around forever. But what does that mean, exactly? More importantly, what should it mean? After all, any new training program is going to be challenging. There will be sweat, soreness, and for some people, a lot of swearing. Truly, if there were no discomfort during any workout, then working out would not do much for us at all.
Below I am sharing my personal check-list for determining what you can work through, when to stop, and how to keep going when your faced with that urge to quit. Whether you struggle with pushing through or holding back (the latter would be me), here are a few things to pay attention to when the going gets tough:
1. Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
During classes or when doing a tough circuit workout, I often give my class and clients a scale by which to gauge their effort. To keep it simple, I tell them where they need to be working, on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being taking a nap, 10 being an all-out sprint. So generally speaking, if you are performing an exercise for more than 30 seconds and you would say you are working at a 9 or a 10, you have to either change the intensity (weight or speed) or the exercise or the duration. Likewise, if you are doing 30-second cardio intervals and are still working at a conversational effort, there is room for you to amp it up quite a bit.
2. Whining or Screaming?
If you are a parent, this is the perfect analogy for how your body ought to feel. You can ignore your kids when they whine about something. But when a child screams, you definitely pay attention! Same goes for your body. When it burns a little, when you feel that dull ache during a hard push, when you start to feel tired; those are not indications that you must cease all activity. But stabbing, acute pain at a specific point on your body, difficulty breathing, or complete inability to maintain proper form means you must stop or switch to an easier activity.
3. Fear of Pain vs. Reality of Pain
Sometimes, I see people holding back simply because they are afraid of the discomfort they will feel later. The best way to break through this mental barrier is to find out by asking your trainer (or learning through experience) what to expect after a hard workout. The WORST thing I hear some trainers say is "stretch so you won't get sore." I WISH! I would never be sore if that were the case! But you know what? When I run a marathon, you bet I am sore, no matter how much I stretch afterwards. Sometimes, just knowing what is in store - and knowing it won't last forever - is enough to get through a workout.
4. Using Your Brain Against Pain
If you are working at your appropriate RPE, know that you are not experiencing any major physical trauma, and have accepted that you are going to be sore later, you are now in the position where you just have to decide to get it over with. Yet even when all systems check out and are OK, the body still wants to convince the brain, "We really don't have to do this. We can stop now." This is where I find a mantra - a statement or slogan, often repeated in a meditative setting - might be helpful. A couple of mine include:
Heart. Strength. Concentrate. (especially helpful for long trail runs)
Find your edge and go beyond.
This is only temporary!
5. When In Doubt, Wait It Out
This is especially important if you're doing something you've never tried before. A trainer is incredibly useful in this scenario because we are trained to spot when someone is straining too hard to complete a rep or push through a timed effort. If you simply do not know if the pain you are feeling is normal or expected, then stop and give yourself 5 minutes. Walk around, hydrate, do some light dynamic stretching, and when you feel like your body has calmed down you can try again. Of course, if you get going again with the same results, it's time to call it a day and try again the next time.