Getting into an established routine of working out and feeling fit and healthy is pretty much priceless. There’s nothing like bounding out of bed in the morning, excited about what the day holds, knowing your body is going to be up to whatever task you give it. However… It would be to attempt to whitewash the life of a physically fit person to pretend that it’s always like that; that every day is a relentless run of boundless energy and feeling amazing. It can be like that – and in fact, it probably is like that most of the time – but there are some days where the physically fit life is also the painful life. Of course, this feels incredibly unfair. You do your bit; you’re holding up your end of the bargain, pushing yourself to meet new fitness goals and keep yourself in good shape. On occasion, it’s blatantly unfair that your reward for all of this hard work is to arguably feel worse. It just so happens that one of the side effects of getting fit is that it increases your likelihood of the odd ache, strain, and tear here and there. To suggest otherwise is to paint a false picture. Not only is that bad in and of itself, but it’s also hugely discouraging if you feel like the only person who doesn’t feel 100% amazing, 100% of the time, as a result of working out.
So let’s acknowledge it happens. You slip, trip, pull, tug, or don’t do anything unusual and still wind up with a muscle screaming for relief. This is not a cause for turning your back on exercises; the benefits still massively (hugely, absolutely…) outweigh the downsides. However, you can make the lower sides better by learning how to handle pain from exercise.
Step One: Adequate Preparation
If you thought figuring out a gym routine was a simple case of deciding when to go, scouting the best gym locations, buying workout clothes and jumping into it… then you were sadly misguided. If you have been relatively unfit for a period of time, then jumping into exercise is going to give your body the shock of its life. Mostly, that’s a good, positive shock that signals you’re on the way to meeting your fitness goals. However, it might also be an unpleasant one, like trying to start a car in the middle of winter when the engine just doesn’t want to turn over. It’s always important that any workout that you do – be it your first for years or your fifth of that week – has a solid background of preparation. First and foremost, that means you need to eat the right foods for exercise. Protein is your friend when it comes to muscles, while if you intend to do anything requiring stamina then a good carbohydrate-rich meal will be what you need. You can add supplements into this if you wish, but remember to always discuss with a doctor prior to taking anything. This is especially true if you’re on prescription medications; you never know where there might be a contraindication. Mostly, though, the majority of your bodily fuel and preparation comes from food. It’s important to eat the right things on the day of your workout, but also after it. If you’ve burned a lot of calories, failing to replace at least some of those could make you unwell and cause a negative body impact. You’re doing this to feel good, right? So don’t take the risk – make sure you refuel after every workout.
Step 2: Recognize “Bad” Pain
Some pain is necessary if you are going to work out effectively. It’s what commonly gets referred to as “the burn”, and it’s a sign that your body is being pushed. That’s an example of good pain, the kind of pain which shows what you’re doing is working, and that it’s going to get results. It’s therefore difficult to issue a blanket statement like: “if it hurts, stop doing it” – because, as discussed, some of that pain is needed. So what you therefore need to learn to do is recognize the bad pain. This is the pain that isn’t your body telling you it’s working hard, it’s the pain that is more reminiscent of your body screaming for you to make it stop. As a generalization, “bad” pain is sharper, more intense, more likely to make your breath catch in your throat. It’s not something you can force your way through, because it’s your body desperately jamming the “stop” button to tell you you’ve gone too far. It’s not weakness to acknowledge you’re in too much pain to continue; it’s a sign that you understand your body.
Step 3: Recovery Is Vital
It might seem that the idea of ‘recovery’ being necessary for a simple gym workout that you could do in your sleep is a bit much, but it’s still something you need to do. The first recovery comes in the form of fluids. Steer well clear of anything beyond water. It might not taste as nice as some bright purple liquid in a flashy bottle, but water is what your body needs. It also needs electrolytes, so – after discussing with your doctor to ensure it’s safe for you to do so – considering adding a pinch of salt or sugar into the water. Keep it to a pinch, though! The next phase of recovery comes in soothing any aching muscles. Stretching is a vital part of this, so make sure you incorporate gentle, relieving stretches after every workout. You can then continue this good work by using heat in the form of a hot bath or a heat bag; anything that can keep muscles from stiffening up as they cool. This is especially important if you have worked out harder, or for longer, than you usually would have done.
Finally, if you fear you have an actual injury rather than just aches and pains, it’s important to see someone. Never try to work out on an injury, as you’re only going to make it worse. Give yourself a break for a few days and if there’s no sign of improvement, it might be worth a quick check with your doctor to ensure all is okay.