Does Working Out Have To Hurt?
As a trainer, one of the questions I get most is how much post-workout soreness is optimal for progression. This question usually comes from people hoping to drop some pounds. Approximately 88 per cent of all exercise participants report that their main goal is to lose weight. When taking on a client who states this as their main goal, I pry a bit deeper and often learn that “losing weight” means achieving the following things:
- Decreased body fat and increased muscular development (the highly coveted toned look)
- The implementation of a regular and healthy exercise regimen
- Increased knowledge and appreciation of exercise and health/nutrition habits
- The elimination of categorically unhealthy habits, such as smoking, binge eating/drinking and Couchitis (inflammation of your couch from you sitting on it too much)
Nothing on this list has anything to do with being beaten up or being sore after a workout. In fact, there is research to show that over-exercising to the point of significant post-workout pain can actually slow progress in these areas. If you have a particular athletic-based objective, then a bit of soreness might be necessary in order to have you fit enough to reach your target. This does not mean exerting oneself to the levels of olympians or developing extreme expectations of physical strength and endurance. Even professional athletes who are respected and even admired for their accomplishments, will be the first to tell you that what they do, neither in training nor on the playing field, should be mimicked by the average fitness participant.
Don't Be Sore
Simply put, the soreness that many people will strive for after a workout is not necessarily a good thing, nor is it (for the most part) beneficial to your fitness progression. That said, it is not entirely unavoidable. Sometimes we inadvertently push ourselves past our thresholds on a given day. So while we shouldn’t strive for pain we also shouldn’t feel badly for a little bit of post workout soreness.
I would never discourage anyone from training hard—it’s the subtle difference between training hard enough and training too hard that can make big differences in your progression.
Don't Hit The Wall
The analogy I like to use with my clients is this: imagine your exercise threshold as a thick concrete wall. I am not saying you should not reach that wall; I am simply saying that you can walk up to it and touch it lightly using mindful, strategic progressions without running headfirst into it at full speed.
Always remember, exercise is not a contest; it’s a process. No brain, no gain.