Welcome to the first instalment of our series, “Exercising Wisely: Debunking Fitness Myths.” In this series, we will explore common misconceptions surrounding exercise and shed light on the truth behind them.
Our journey begins with Myth No. 1 – the infamous mantra of “No pain, no gain!” that has permeated the world of fitness.
In the world of fitness and exercise, we often come across the famous saying, “No pain, no gain!” This mantra has been deeply ingrained in our minds, stemming from the realm of heavy bodybuilding. However, it reflects a profound lack of understanding about how our bodies truly function and demonstrates a complete disregard for the complexity of our body’s defence mechanisms. In fact, this mindset is responsible for more pain and injuries than any other aspect of exercise. In this article, we will delve into the fallacy of “no pain, no gain,” exploring why pain should always be taken seriously and emphasising the importance of listening to our bodies.
The Danger of Ignoring Pain Signals
Pain is a crucial warning sign from our bodies that we are engaging in potentially harmful activities, and it demands our immediate attention. However, our society often perceives pain as an inconvenience, prioritising our busy schedules over the messages our bodies are trying to convey. Television advertisements propagate the idea that pain should not hinder us; instead, we should simply take a pill or apply a gel and continue with our lives. Yet, pain serves as our body’s alarm system, alerting us to potential dangers and urging us to take appropriate action.
To illustrate the significance of pain, imagine driving home in a brand-new, high-end Mercedes-Benz, only to have a glaring red engine warning light start flashing. Would you ignore it and continue driving, assuming it to be a minor inconvenience? Unlikely! However, in gyms every day, individuals adopt the mentality of “no pain, no gain,” disregarding the pain signals their bodies are sending. Moreover, the proliferation of modern technology and training aids, such as wraps, braces, drugs, and tape, further disconnects us from our body’s warning system.
By ignoring pain, we remove ourselves from the invaluable insights it provides. Pain can reveal poor alignment, overuse, imbalance, and inflammation, all of which can lead to injuries or re-injuries if not addressed. It is akin to taking out a loan that our bodies cannot repay the interest on. Hence, it is crucial to understand the consequences of exercising through pain.
The Impact of Pain on Movement and Motor Control
When we attempt to exercise through pain, it has several adverse effects on our motor control systems and movement patterns. Studies conducted by researchers Hodges and Tucker in 2011 shed light on the subject. In the presence of pain and injury, our motor control systems compensate to protect the injured area temporarily. However, these compensatory movement patterns contribute to further injuries, re-injuries, and a decline in motor performance.
Pain significantly impacts motor control and the way we move, often in unpredictable and inconsistent ways that are task-specific. Depending on the nature of a given task, the system may increase or decrease muscle activation. This means that exercise can have varying effects—sometimes helping, and other times exacerbating the situation. Unfortunately, there is no reliable way to predict or control the outcome, making it challenging to determine what works and what doesn’t.
Furthermore, pain begets pain. Nerves become sensitised in the presence of continuous painful stimuli, leading to stronger signals being sent to the brain. This process makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, as repeated minor injuries can escalate into more significant injuries if the activity persists. However, after only a short period, the brain can associate certain movements with pain, strengthening unwanted neural connections known as neurotags. Over time, this results in increased pain sensitivity and reduced tolerance to movement.
Consequently, pain triggers a perception of threat, which leads to protective mechanisms like stiffness, decreased strength, and altered coordination patterns. The harder one pushes through pain, the stiffer the body becomes. This hinders the acquisition of new movement skills essential for improving and strengthening exercise performance.
Learning and Progression Hindered by Pain
Learning new movements while in pain becomes incredibly challenging since pain monopolises the brain’s attention, impeding the acquisition of sensory information needed for skill development. When pain takes centre stage, the gains in strength, performance, and overall improvement resulting from exercise become minimal and sluggish.
To understand this concept, imagine trying to memorise a telephone number while repeatedly pricking your hand with a pin. The pain would distract your brain, hindering the learning process. Similarly, when pain becomes the focus during exercise, it limits the potential benefits and slows down progress.
The widespread belief in “no pain, no gain” is fundamentally flawed and potentially dangerous. Pain should never be ignored, as it serves as a vital indicator of potential harm. Instead, it is essential to approach exercise with caution, ensuring that we move within safe limits, without causing injury or excess threat. This principle forms the foundation of the work conducted at Sussex Back Pain Clinic.
Renowned physical therapist Gray Cook encapsulates the essence of a balanced approach to exercise when he advises, “First, move well, then move often.” By prioritising movement quality and listening to our bodies, we can reap the benefits of exercise without compromising our well-being.
In conclusion, let us abandon the fallacy of “no pain, no gain” and embrace a mindful and balanced approach to exercise—one that respects our bodies’ warning signals and fosters optimal movement patterns for long-term health and fitness.
So, as you embark on your fitness journey, remember that your body is your most valuable asset. Treat it with care and respect. Listen to the messages it sends through pain signals, and take them seriously. Prioritise movement quality over pushing through discomfort. By doing so, you can achieve sustainable progress and long-term well-being.
If you’re interested in learning more about maintaining a healthy and pain-free exercise routine, we invite you to explore the resources available at Sussex Back Pain Clinic. Our dedicated team of experts is here to support you on your path to optimal movement and fitness.
Remember, exercise should enhance your life, not compromise it. So let’s debunk the myth of “no pain, no gain” and embrace a holistic approach that values both your body and your goals. Your journey to a healthier, stronger you begins with mindful and balanced movement.