‘No gain without pain’ is a common phrase – and it’s dead wrong. On two counts. First you might not push yourself so that you feel as if it’s hurting, but you will still gain in fitness. Second, and much more important, it’s wrong because it reinforces the idea that what happens to our bodies when we push ourselves ( heart pounding, breathlessness, sweating, muscles straining etc) is ‘pain’. It’s not. ‘Pain’- e.g. a headache -is a sign that something’s wrong, and it’s beyond our immediate control, unless we resort to some sort of drug. What we experience in exercise is a different thing altogether. It’s what I call the fizz. It’s a sign that our body is working as it should – and we are in control. Back off on the effort a touch and we soon start to recover.
But surprisingly, increasing the effort can have the same effect! Last night towards the end of a session of Spin ( indoor cycling class) we were in an uphill sprint, out of the saddle, turning a heavy resistance and trying to pedal as fast as possible. I was feeling all the fizz symptoms pretty hard but instead of backing off I tried to push harder. It worked. It actually got a bit easier. I was demanding – and surprisingly getting – more energy than I though I had.
It illustrates a very big point about exercise and fitness:
Your body will only give you what you ask from it. If you don’t ask, you won’t get.