We’ve all heard the old saying: No pain, no gain. I’ve heard it many times from clients in the clinic when we are doing corrective and therapeutic exercises, thinking that the exercise must be working if it hurts. I’m writing today to challenge the line of reasoning when it comes to “no pain, no gain”
When people exercise and they are healthy, usually they are doing it because they have some kind of goal in mind; they want to experience a positive change from where they were before. This goal could relate to weight loss, strength, endurance, etc. In order to change our bodies to increase performance, we must overload it to some degree, and do so safely. This will allow adaptations in our muscles, nerves, and energy systems that make us better than we were before. The “pain” associated with this process is usually more of an “I’m tired” than it is an “ouch, that hurts”. Our body wants to give up but we push it into that overloaded state so it can be better than it was before. When pain is not present, our body can safely get into that overloaded state without holding back.
Most of the clients I deal with in the clinic are in pain to some degree and their function is limited as a result. It is my job to get them back to their original state of function. Some clients will come in and say, “I’ve had this pain for a few months now, I tried to work through it and it’s just not going away”. What this tells me is that they have already tried working through the pain, and they are coming to see me because that’s not working. Trying that same method over again wouldn’t make sense; a different approach needs to be taken.
I educate a lot of my clients in the clinic when they are doing their therapeutic exercises to do so within a pain-free range. They might use the first rep or two of an exercise to figure out where that pain is, but the rest of the reps are done shy of that pain threshold. This allows the exercises to be geared towards restoring pain-free movement and building confidence with a movement that might have been difficult to do before.
Should we be afraid of pain? Absolutely not; it’s an indicator to our body that it’s getting close to the limit of the tissues being stressed, and it’s a good thing we have it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t know our limits until actual tissue damage occurred. This piece is not meant to say that pain should be avoided at all costs in any situation. Rather, when the purpose of the exercise is generally therapeutic, pain should not be the goal of the exercise, as I often see it being done. Exercising doesn’t need to be painful to be effective. Consider this the next time you are exercising for the purpose of recovering from an injury.