Exercise Doesn’t Have to Feel Awful

Suffering is not a necessary part of exercise and is not a sign of a good workout.

Think about what we associate with the idea of ​​”good workout”: Someone sweats when they do it, breathes heavily; someone worn out by sweat; the one who can hardly walk the next day. Wow, that was a good workout . But these are not indicators of performance or progress.

Sweat is determined by how much heat your body generates. Breathing is appropriate during high-intensity cardio, but not all cardio needs to be high-intensity. Exhaustion should not be common. And painfulness at all can not be a good indicator of anything.

Heavy workouts should be balanced with light ones.

Look at any structured sports progression program and you will notice that challenging workouts are added for variety; they are not bread and butter. For example, if you are a runner, almost all of your runs will be easy, slow . Most likely, there will be some more complex intervals, but this is not the whole program.

The first time I did an actual powerlifting workout, programmed by Barbell Medicine coaches who don’t pay me to do it, I walked out of the gym thinking, did I ever train? Yes, the squat and bench sets were working, but I was told not to lift to failure, so they were never heavy. Then I had to rest for three to five minutes between sets. It was like that for an hour and a half, and I don’t think I even sweated.

But as I followed the program month after month, my climbs got higher and higher. I was shocked that you don’t have to do one difficult rep after another to make progress in lifting weights. Of course there were days when I had to do heavy singles. They were part of the program, but not the whole program. The day after the powerlifting competition, I was tired and sick. But after training every day, I felt differently.

Likewise, I learned many years ago that running slowly makes you faster. Every time I tried to overtake my time, every time I went out on a three-mile run, I was on a constant plateau. When I accepted a program that had so many easy runs that it hardly looked like work, then I progressed.

Fatigue sells

It is important to understand the difference between what we find attractive and what is really useful. Sportswear ads always seem to feature people glistening with sweat and breathing heavily. I once heard a trainer give advice to a personal trainer on a podcast, pointing out that if a new client doesn’t hurt after the first session, they’ll think the new trainer didn’t give them a good workout.

There was a time when I went to CrossFit classes. They’re awesomely cool, and Metcones – the scheduled workouts that are often the highlight of the day – usually leave you sprawled on the floor in a puddle of sweat. People who regularly attended classes (unlike me, to be honest) got better and stronger; you could see them progress over the weeks and months. This is a great way to exercise, but not the only one.

But when you’re new to tough training – like I was getting back into shape after a significant break at the time – they can be intimidating. I knew I felt good after school, but sometimes I was reluctant to come. I had to be in the right mood to commit and push myself. And I knew that after that I would probably be sick for a few more days. I missed a lot of workouts.

Keep track of your goals, not just your experience

It’s a little strange that fatigue and soreness are sold, but they are. Unless they’re explicitly involved in sales, they are often the context, part of the fitness halo that surrounds Instagram brands and personalities.

It’s okay if you enjoy the fun of fast-paced sprints. It’s okay if you find some delayed-onset slight muscle soreness as a welcome reminder that you’ve stuck to your workout plan. You are allowed to enjoy these things if you really want to.

However, the flip side of the coin is that one day you will stop getting sick, and then what? I regularly see people popping up on Reddit to ask what they did wrong with their workout routine because they used to feel sick, but now they no longer do it. Or they chase those feelings of soreness and fatigue by doing any workout that brings those feelings back, mistakenly believing that these workouts should be more effective. In truth, if you keep changing your workouts, you will get sore. (Soreness is more accurately tracked with new movements than with hard ones.)

But changing your workout just forces you to spin the wheels, no longer striving to achieve your goals. Whether your reason for exercising is to get stronger, increase endurance, achieve an aesthetic goal like losing weight, or get your doctor not to talk about your cholesterol levels, you need to keep track of those goals, not how much you feel tired during or after exercise.


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