No Pain, All Gain: A Sensible Approach To Exercise

For those of us who want to resume exercising but have not been terribly active in recent years, or were never active, to begin with, there is both good news and bad. The bad news is that at the outset you will likely encounter a sense of struggling as if you have lost the fitness you once had. And to some extent that is exactly what has happened. But the good news is that that feeling will fade very quickly if you approach the transition to an active lifestyle intelligently. Here’s how you can increase your chances of doing that.

Choose Exercises You Enjoy

Sounds like common sense, right? But you’d be amazed at how many of us tackle activities that we have never tried and may not enjoy, or what’s worse, activities we have tried and know we don’t enjoy. Take a moment to think about what you like, and think about it in those terms–not what you can stomach, but what you actually enjoy. Some things to consider while pondering this question are indoor v/s outdoor activities, costs associated with purchasing the right equipment, and time involved. For the most part, it makes sense to choose not only something you enjoy but also something that has few if any barriers that might prevent you from sticking to your exercise routine.

Start Easy, Build Gradually

It is very tempting to jump out of bed on the first day of the rest of your life and run five miles, even though you haven’t run in a couple of years. And you may even make it the total distance, and you may enjoy it. Then you wake up the next morning incredibly sore both in your muscles and your joints, and you wonder what the hell you were thinking, vowing never to run again. You used to enjoy running, perhaps even competed. What went wrong?

Several things may be at fault: your preferences may have changed, you may not have stretched enough, etc. But the most likely explanation is that you tried to do too much too soon, and that is one of the surest ways to ensure failure in your efforts to start and maintain an exercise routine. When you are starting out, it is critical that you start out very slowly and build both the intensity and duration of your workouts gradually. When in doubt, go easy – you’ll thank me (and yourself) the following morning.

If It Doesn’t Feel Good, STOP

Once again, it seems like a no-brainer, right? But many of us were brought up to believe in the “no pain, no gain” paradigm, and we continue to embrace it. It is important to note that some slight muscle soreness is to be expected when you are getting back into exercise, but pain and soreness are two different things. A couple of simple rules to follow:



continue to do something if it hurts


Stretch both before and after exercising, especially after, when your muscles are warm.

Check with Your Doctor

As always, when you are considering starting a new exercise routine, consult your physician, and make sure you incorporate his/her advice in choosing your exercise regimen. This is especially crucial if you have any existing medical concerns or history of injury, but it holds for everyone. Fools rush in.

The “All or Nothing” Trap

Once you’ve chosen which exercise(s) to do and for how long, you should beware of the “all or nothing” trap. It goes something like this: you plan to do your workout at a specific time of day for a specific period of time, and something comes up that interferes with your plan. Your reaction is “Oh well, you guess today is shot… you’ll workout tomorrow.” The problem is that tomorrow becomes the day after, then the day after that, etc., and the next thing you know two weeks have passed and you haven’t exercised at all.

Although we tend to look at exercise as “all or nothing”, i.e. if we can’t do our prescribed workout we are going to put off exercising at all until we can fit it in. Because life can often interfere with our neat little plans, we need to adopt a more flexible, open-minded attitude toward exercising, and here is a simple reminder to help you do that: DO SOMETHING EVERY DAY. What do you mean by “something”? Anything. Walk during part of your lunchtime (no one needs a full hour to eat lunch), take stairs instead of an elevator, walk to the store instead of driving, do a few push-ups and sit-ups in your hotel room, etc. It isn’t ideal, but it is WAY better than nothing, and it keeps exercise in your consciousness until such time as you can get to your full workout. Also, when you do get to your full workout it will be more pleasant and easier for your having done some maintenance throughout.

One last note: if you are finding that you almost never have time to do your full workout, it’s time to design a new workout. Don’t set yourself up to fail.