Fitness for Americans: If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong (part 2 of 3)

Last time we discussed how getting healthy and fit was so overwhelming and scary. So much so that it becomes a deterrent to itself. The landscape of confusing consumerism that bangs us over the head with new plans and programs that are “guaranteed” has us so confused that it’s easier to just do nothing. Pass the Cheetos.

Health” professionals” keep telling us how we will be sore and how we cannot “gain” (whatever that means) without “pain”. I am here to say that if you are hurting from your physical activity, you’re doing it wrong. There is some truth in that you may have some discomfort when you start exercising but “pain” means that something is wrong. Maybe you have an injury or your equipment is inappropriate. Maybe you bit off more than you can chew. In any sense, you need to evaluate what you are doing: get checked out by a medical professional, check into new shoes or equipment and/or dial it back a bit.  In order to advance we do need to push ourselves. We need to go for an increase of the activity time, or up the speed of our run, or  go to more challenging terrain. In any way we need to keep pushing it. BUT, and that’s a big but, when it cause pain we need to re-evaluate.

There will be some soreness but it should be more at a level of slight discomfort, not pain. Your muscles are not filling with lactic acid like little pink sponges. Lactic acid is a by-product of anaerobic muscle work. This happens when your workout is focused more on anaerobic or “without oxygen” activity like weight lifting. However, most lactic acid is flushed from your muscles shortly after you complete your workout.  And aerobic work produces little lactic acid. The soreness you may feel from working out or being active is caused by microfiber tears in the muscles. WHAT!?! Take it easy, the micro fibers of muscle are strained or broken during a strenuous workout but that is not as bad as it sounds. It’s like a single strand of the steel belted part of your car tire breaking. There are millions, even  more like billions, of other strands that keep the muscle (or tire) functional. The better news is that in recovery, the muscle, not so much the tire, builds new fiber sections, adding strength and making you feel better. This does not have anything to do with lactic acid and/or pain for gain. It does let you know that your body is working for you. Then when you can complete that workout without soreness, it’s time to take the next step and add time, and intensity or change the challenge. It’s really a simple system. Our body tells us when we can do a little more.

Exercise specialists tell us that we should have 60 minutes of physical activity a week and kids used to need 30 minutes a day. Our standards have slipped a bit and now we feel we should commend people for just getting off the couch.  The fact is that we should start with a few minutes of activity and push for more as time goes on.  This winter I was hit with a wicked cold right before the weather provided no option for a run outside (for about 2 weeks). I was off my schedule of running and when ready to go out again the snow was ridiculous. So I was off for about 3 weeks. I usually run about 3 miles at about a 9 minute pace. When I started back in I tried to do what I always did, I should have known better. I was a little sore. In honesty my whining was not proportional to my soreness; you would have thought I lost a leg. But that’s neither here nor there. I had to readjust my workout, I slowed my pace and shortened my run until I was ready for more. Now I’m back on pace.

We have to be forgiving of our soreness and understand that it is either a lesson telling us what we did wrong, or an affirmation that we did right.

Next: Getting your head fit

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