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Ow Means No

by on April 17, 2013

What’s the A-Z topic for the letter ‘N’? Let’s go with no.

“No pain, no gain” is the oft-heard motto of the weightlifter and the athlete. And it has merit – we have to push ourselves to get results, and sometimes that hurts.

But there’s a key distinction to remember as we strive to find and break our limits.

Muscle pain, as in getting sore from working hard, is good. That pain produces gain.

Joint pain, as in motion-induced aggravation in knees, ankles, back, shoulders and so on – that’s bad.

Pain in joints will affect form, which can force other joints and muscles to compensate by moving out of proper alignment to protect the injured joint. Pain in joints also indicates a problem that can get worse if not properly diagnosed, addressed, or healed. If nothing else, it’s a big warning sign that we should pay closer attention and listen to our body.

In my time as a Spin instructor, one of the things I reminded every class was that we have to listen to the cues our bodies are giving us. If my muscles aren’t working hard, I better turn up some resistance or work a bit harder in order to get the benefits of the exercise. If my joints start hurting, no matter how much I want to grit my teeth and be a hero, I should probably back down or even stop.

Sometimes this really sucks. We have a goal in mind that we want to achieve, but our bodies are screaming to slow down and take it easy. We often hear “Mind over matter” or “Mind over muscle,” or “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” But the sad truth is that if it’s the wrong kind of pain, then “Pain is the body telling you it’s about to break.”

No good comes from that.

I’m walking around in a cam walker, a special boot that wraps around my foot to provide support and stability after surgery. Every time I walk any distance, the first few steps hurt a lot, and then my body gets more or less accustomed to the pain. I force myself to walk on the foot more than I would like, because I know it needs to get stronger. But there’s a limit. I tried walking down the hill to my current place of work, and quickly realized I bit off more than I could chew. Pretty soon, every step was sharp stabbing agony in my heel. I spent the next day mostly off of the foot, trying to get the pain to subside. My body warned me, but I didn’t listen.

A few years ago, last time I went through surgery, my commander told me, “Listen to the doctors, and take your time recovering. Make sure it goes the way it should – don’t push it.” I found out that he had a good reason for saying so. He had injured his knee, and instead of listening to the doctors, he went hiking in Hawaii – on his bad knee. He’s young, and he’s always “hard core” about fitness and strength. But he ended up making his knee worse by over-stressing the joint during an important recovery time.

Sometimes pain brings no gain. It just means pain, like the flashing red lights at the train tracks. We’d do well to stop and wait, make the smart decision, and recover. Otherwise, we risk turning our training into a train wreck.

When your joints say ‘No,” it really does mean, “No.”

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From → Take a Breather

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  1. Pain | Fat Guys Vs. Gym

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