There’s a well-known saying that seems to be everywhere I look these days: and if I’m being completely honest, it’s one I really can’t agree with.
“No pain, no gain.”
Ever stubbed your toe? Exactly. I could rest my case right there.
I get what it’s trying to say. It wants you to know that you need to move outside your comfort zone to grow – that’s something I completely agree with, and recommend you do that every single day if you possibly can.
But that’s not what it actually says.
Supposedly motivational slogans like “no pain, no gain”, “pain is weakness leaving the body”, and “when my body shouts ‘stop’, my mind screams ‘never!’ ” are sending out a dangerous message to anyone who exercises. They’re asking you not to listen to your body when it tells you to stop, but to keep going regardless because that’s the only way you’re going to improve.
So you’re saying I should stop exercising if something hurts?
Yes and no.
Let’s use pole fitness as an example. To begin with, it may pinch your skin when you grip with your inner thigh or your elbow. You may get bruises on your shins or behind your knee. These are delicate areas to start with, but you will become more comfortable with those grips within a few weeks.
It’s ok to feel uncomfortable, but it should never be unbearably painful.
You’ll also find that certain moves make your muscles work hard, and you may feel a ‘burn’ in your chest, stomach, legs and shoulders – like you will in a Zumba class, after a hard ride on a bike or when you lift weights. A day or two after your pole fitness classes, you may find your muscles are sore or ache. The stronger your body gets, the less intense these feelings will be.
Whatever kind of exercise you’re doing, you should never work to the point where you feel like you want to “puke, faint or die”.
What happens if I don’t stop when something hurts?
Have you ever seen an animal that’s scared? Before it resorts to attacking someone,
it will give them a warning. A lot of animals puff up to make themselves look big, they hiss or growl, and if those signals are ignored and you don’t leave them alone, that’s when they’re going to bite.
Pain responses are your body’s way of telling you it’s about to snap. It’s your “back off or get bitten!” warning, and if you don’t listen, it’s when you’re likely to do some damage.
You don’t need to go to your limits to see progression: you can challenge your body in a way that’s driven by good technique and focuses on building your strength over time to get you to where you want to be.
How can I train smarter and reduce risk of injury?
Listen to your body
Your body is brilliant at knowing when something is wrong, you just have to get better at listening to it. If you pay attention you’ll soon know when a twinge is a sign of bad technique (easily corrected so you can carry on) or an old injury playing up (modify the exercise or step away from it).
Talk to your coach
A good teacher will motivate you and encourage your progress. They will have a good idea of what you can do, but what they don’t know is when something isn’t feeling right to you. Be a great communicator and let them know exactly what is holding you back. Whether it’s pain, confidence or something else, they’ll be able to suggest a way forward.
Take rest seriously
If you train intensely then you increase your risk of injury. This is the same whether you do hours of pole fitness in a week, or whether pole fitness is just one of many exercise classes you do. Be sensible: plan rest days and take extra time to recover when you feel you need it.
Get some support
Working your body hard makes it more likely that you’ll need some help to keep everything running smoothly. Consider seeing a sports therapist regularly to prevent injury, and make sure you’re eating enough of the right things to fuel and repair your body. Your teacher or a nutritionist will be able to offer advice.
As with any sport, there is risk involved in pole fitness: in your pole classes I do my utmost to miminise risk to you through use of safety mats, spotting and proper instruction in what you need to be doing in each move. Even so, injuries can happen (show me a sport where they don’t!) which is why it’s so important to listen to your body and learn the difference between what’s a reasonable amount of discomfort and what’s a sign that you need to take a break.