Wednesday, August 25, 2010

No Pain and No Gain? Are You Sure?

Popularised through inspirational movies, hard-nosed military trainers, old-school coaches and PE teachers, the saying “No pain, no gain” is very widely known.  Most people even understand it properly, knowing that it means you can’t make progress (gain) without a lot of hard work (pain).  Normally in the sporting field, the idea is demonstrated in squeezing out a few more push ups in the agony of the moment or in having the pain for a few days after a workout that tells you that you have put in enough effort.

While there is a very good lesson in mental toughness to learn from pushing yourself so hard, the reality is that your physical performance will improve by the greatest amount if you train with enough comfort that you are not sore at all in the hours or days following your training session.  There is a lot of research to back this up, but the common sense rationale is that you will be able to train again sooner if you do not have to spend so much time recovering.  

This doesn’t seem right in some ways, but when you realise that there is a difference between testing your maximum ability and improving your maximum ability, and that you don’t necessarily train your maximum by testing it, you begin to see that there might be something in this.

Some good reasons for not pushing the pain barrier too far:
1. Your recovery will take longer, reducing the overall amount of training time
2. You are more likely to sustain injury due to over training, e.g. repetitive strain injuries or connective tissue degeneration (again, resulting in more time off training).
3. You are more likely to sustain an injury if you are too tired to maintain proper form (technique)
4. You are more likely to struggle mentally to motivate yourself if you are having to mentally fight every training session.  Less motivation results in less training because you would rather sit on the couch.

Taking the other side of the coin, keeping free from pain during training results in slower initial progress, but a strong foundation is built upon which lasting progress can be built.  Motivation is easy because you are training well below your maximum ability which gives a feeling of confidence.  This also means you will be able to train longer and more often, with less wear and tear on your body.  You get to practice technique more if you train more which results in more efficient movement, saving energy and increasing the amount of total work output.

You will find yourself improving almost by accident which is a great buzz.  The only catch is that you have to commit the time over months and years to see big gains.  Life-long performance can be expected though.

So let’s rephrase the tired, old, over-trained cliche:  No pain and much gain!