“No Pain, No Gain” - Not a Proper Approach
We all know how important it is to move our bodies. Getting back to the gym or beginning a fitness program for the first time doesn’t have to be as painful as you might think. Making the transition from non-movement to movement without injuring yourself in the process is key to your long term success. An injury in the first couple of weeks can stop you before you can really get started.
How Can You Avoid Injury?
It’s very important to warm up before embarking on any activity. The easiest way is to slowly go through the motions you’ll be doing with greater intensity afterward. For example, if you’re planning to jog, walk for five minutes first. You may also want to stretch your calves, thighs and hamstrings, because they’ll tend to tighten after jogging. Cool down for a few minutes at the end of your jog—slow to a walk—to help your body transition to less intense activity.
It’s also very important to to understand the signals your body is sending you while you are exercising. Knowing the difference between discomfort and pain is critical if you want to enjoy your activity, achieve your goals, and remain active as time goes on.
One of the most common things I see while working with people who are in the first few weeks of a new exercise program is that their level of motivation “out of the gate” is high. Starting out with vigor and a great mental perspective is wonderful. But if it overrides your ability to hear your body saying, “slow-down” or “stop”, that’s not so good.
I have seen torn hamstrings, shin splints, swollen knees, plantar fasciitis, and even stress fractures to the feet and ankles over the years. One common thread in this tapestry of damage is a “no pain, no gain” mindset.
A Case in Point
I am reminded of an extreme case. A young woman—we’ll call her Jane—came to me complaining of severe pain in her hamstring area. Jane had been an avid runner for years, but a move and career change took her out of her routine. After settling in, she decided it was time to get back on track. Aware she was not stretching enough on her own, she decided to add yoga to her weekly regimen.
Jane started her first day back with a five mile run and then off to a new yoga class. That evening she felt a dull ache in the back of her leg. Figuring it was just the usual soreness from her first run in several weeks, she didn’t think much of it. After three days (and two more morning runs, another yoga class, and plenty of Ibuprofen,) the pain had become so excruciating she could hardly get out of bed!
Two weeks later, Jane showed up in my office. During her intake assessment, she described a radiating pain in her hip and down the leg. After a hands-on assessment of the area, I said that I could not treat her with the level of inflammation I was detecting and recommended she go home, ice the area and schedule an appointment with her physician.
A couple of weeks later, Jane appeared in my office again. She had come to inform me that she had had to have surgery to re-attach her hamstring. The doctor told her he could not be sure, but it seemed as though she had an old injury there—that perhaps she had torn the hamstring more than once or twice! This experience left her wondering, “How could I have been running all those years with torn hamstrings? What role did the yoga class play?”
The truth is, Jane believed her legs had to “burn” so she knew she was “getting the job done.” It was normal for her to “push through the pain.” She also shared with me that she could not resist trying to keep up with the yoga instructor, even though she was unsure of her form and new to the class. She realized, at a terrific cost, that being patient with herself and easing her way in would have been wiser. Asking for some special attention from the instructor or taking a beginner’s yoga class could have prevented the surgery and the six weeks of prescribed down time afterward.
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