We’ve all heard the saying “no pain, no gain”, but what is pain really – and do you really have to experience pain to get the gain?
Personally, I think pain depends on the person. When Steve was trainer ABC’s weight loss reality show, Fat March, some of the contestants thought they were having heart attacks when their heart rate increased. They had never experienced cardio before and it was painful to them. Many of them had lived their lives as comfortable as they could – to the point of putting a refrigerator in their bedroom so they didn’t have to walk all the way to the kitchen for a coke. However, if you’ve ever done an intense workout, you know what it feels like to tax your body. Is it uncomfortable? Yes. Is it bad for you? No. Does it feel good? Not to me! Does it feel good afterwards? Absolutely!
When this mantra was posted on Detour Bar’s facebook page, someone wrote: “if you’re working out to the point where it’s either painful or you experience post-workout exhaustion… well, you’re doing it wrong and you’re not eating right… this isn’t motivational, it’s just plain dumb.”
The Pain that Drives You
First, let’s talk about emotional pain. Pain isn’t always a muscle burning, heart pounding, or a joint aching. Sometimes pain is the feeling you have when you struggle to fit in your plane seat. It can be the painful realization you are no longer fitting in your clothes. It could be the bad report you get from your doctor, as he tells you your unhealthy lifestyle is going to kill you if you don’t do something about it. Pain can be the looks people give you, or the rejection you have received. Pain could be the shortness of breath you get from just going up one flight of stairs. Pain can be loneliness, depression, heaviness or despair that is driving you to get healthy.
Just getting to the gym can be a pain, the painstaking effort it takes to just get to the gym – to pack your gym bag after a really long day and keep showing up, even though you are too tired, too stressed or too busy. It could be the embarrassment and wake-up call you get when you are the last to finish a workout, and you realize just how out of shape you are. It could be the flighting moment of doubt or defeat in yourself – when you realize “this” is not going be easy, BUT you know if you stick with it, it will be worth it. All of these definitions of pain can drive you, if you choose. Or you can latch on to them, and let them define you.
Now, let’s talk about physical pain. Does it take literal pain to get ahead? The answer is: that depends how you define pain. My workouts are painful – not the bad kind of pain, but the good kind of pain. Some people may disagree. Some people may do the exact same workout and enjoy the muscle burn. To me, I’d define that as pain. My workouts can be unCOMFORTable, but that’s because I’m pushing my body. I have spurts of breathing so hard, it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes my muscles are burning so much, they feel like they are going to burst into flames. Even my runs can be a bit painful, especially if I run after leg day. Do my workouts hurt? Yes. Are they hurting my body? No. BUT, if I worked in my comfort zone (always trying to stay comfortable), I would never get stronger, never get faster, never get better.
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
Even if the workout is easy and relatively comfortable during the workout, sometimes you experience pain after the workout. Sore muscles, fatigue, or normal wear and tear on a 42 year old body can be uncomfortable too. Sure, I could quit and say this is for the birds, but am I really going to let a little bit of discomfort stop me? Nope! Why? Because I focus on the reward more than the work. And you know what? The more I train, the more the definition of pain changes.
Now, pain is the feeling I get when I overeat or neglect my body. Living unhealthy would be very painful to me. If I didn’t workout. I would just trade good pain for bad pains. Instead of sore muscles, I’d have sore joints and ailments due to weak and tight muscles. I’d have painful feelings, insecurities and stress due to letting my body go.
As we age, everyone will experience pain at one point or other. You decide what kind of pain you want to experience – destructive pain, or constructive pain. You can let past painful moments drive you to improve. You can let the pain you may experience during a challenging workout remind you that you are changing.
Whatever your definition of “pain” is, let it drive you, not beat you.