Like many who hit the gym hard, I’m a hard charger. Advance, advance, advance. “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” goes the famous USMC slogan. If we’re talking about muscle pain (within reason), then yes, depending on your tolerance and fitness levels, soreness and fatigue are good things.
For joints, ligaments, tendons, and anything deeper, more internal, pulling sensations or sharp, biting pain should be noted and whatever action is causing them ceased and/or modified immediately. Pushing through isn’t a good thing. It can lead to the destabilization of joints or the spinal column, overstretching or overworking or even the breaking of ligaments and tendons (I know of people who’ve injured both), strains, sprains, dislocations, herniation, joint or spinal deterioration, and so forth. Having personally experienced a knee dislocation due to overstretching, I’m here to tell you that it’s no fun hurting yourself and no fun being slowed down by rehabilitation–particularly for go-getters.
There is a prevalent mindset urging exercisers to push through the weariness, soreness, and pain. Popular workout-at-home videos like P90X, CrossFit, and so on, have motivational personae encouraging the participant to keep going, keep going, at the risk of sacrificing body alignment and precision for the sake of burning more calories.
I come from a very different mindset, the body-mind mindset, where body alignment and precision are two very fundamental principles of a strong, supportive workout that gradually gets harder and digs deeper over time. Ah, yes, a lot of folks have trouble with those last two words, “Over time.” We live in a society where people want instantaneous results. Diets and exercise programs promise a loss of [insert a number] pounds in the first 2-6 weeks. And, let’s face it, the weight might come off but does it stay off, or are we happier working harder rather than smarter, or do we feel any better about ourselves merely because we’re dieting/exercising in order to fit in with the current skinny-Minny trends of the magazines?
The answer, most often, is no, we don’t feel better about ourselves, and pushing beyond where our bodies physically can go today isn’t necessarily going to make us feel good…about ourselves or anything else.Yes, we ought to feel weariness at the end of a tough workout, but we shouldn’t feel our lower backs or joints. Yes, we ought to push ourselves, but we shouldn’t compromise the precision with which each exercise ought to be accomplished. It is better to do fewer repetitions, or move gently into a stretch, rather than finding ourselves jerking and twisting and exerting too forcefully for our bodies to handle that momentum and force placed upon them.
The solution to avoiding an injury, then, is quite simple and another foundational principle of mind-body exercise: listen to your body. It will tell you where to go every day. Each day may be different, and that’s okay! Gains in strength and flexibility (range of motion) should be earned through gradual increases of weight or stretching over a long period of time. For us go-getters, slowing down is hard but essential to preventing the wrong kinds of soreness and injury. The best gains are the safest gains!