‘No pain, no gain’ – Truth or myth?

Working as an exercise physiologist, I hear the phrase ‘no pain, no gain’ almost daily. It is commonly believed that pain with exercise is normal, and if you are not feeling any pain you must not be working hard enough. But is this fact or fiction?

Well let me start by saying the answer is not completely black or white. Some discomfort with exercise is normal. Discomfort, which is different to pain, can be related to the ‘burning’ sensation of working muscles. When a muscle is contracted repeatedly through resistance based exercise, tiny micro tears occur throughout the muscle tissue. When the muscle fibres rebuild, the muscle mass/size increases, as does its strength.

Pain is however not to be ignored when it is associated with joint pain. Joint pain due to arthritis is of concern with exercise, as the impact on arthritic joints can lead to further degeneration. Repetitive movements that place further strain on inflamed structures can also worsen these soft tissue conditions, including tendonitis and bursitis.

Pain is meant to be protective for the body. It is a natural defense mechanism that warns us of danger. Muscle fibres, tendons and ligaments can stretch up to a certain degree, but pushing through pain with exercise can potentially lead to injuries such as soft tissue tears.

This however does not mean that if you have osteoarthritis or other aches or pains, that you have an excuse not to exercise! There are always alternative options that will allow you to exercise comfortably. Consider non-weight bearing exercises, such as swimming or cycling. Use a subjective scale of intensity, such as Borg’s Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, and keep to a moderate intensity. Avoid any movement that brings on your pain.

For a specific, individualized exercise program, it is advised to see an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

About Clinton Joynes

I am a motivated person who is interested in all things relating to exercise. I have worked with elite athletes to people with chronic illnesses. I love motivating others to achieve their goals. I believe in a personal and fun approach to life and work.

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