I used to be one of them: a trainer and group fitness instructor who bragged about how sore I could make my clients. Then I had an epiphany: What if I could make people stronger without hurting them? It was all about delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) back then – back before I had kids, before I had knee surgery, before I was diagnosed with a compressed disc, before I realized how much I was hurting – It was about deliberately and systematically creating micro-tears in muscle tissue for the sake of stimulating hypertrophy (bigger muscle). The more sore you were, the stronger you would be, right? No pain, no gain!

… but what if your soreness is a developing injury, and you ignore it? This showed up on FIVE fitness pages I follow in one morning on facebook.

Before we go further, let me clarify that I’m going to suggest that soreness isn’t the goal, rather Strength is the goal. Range of motion is the goal. Progress is the goal. If you get a little sore after a great workout, and it doesn’t hinder your range of motion and affect your ability to function, and it’s not pain… that’s fine. However, the average non-exerciser or beginner exerciser {there is a difference} has a hard time distinguishing between pain and general muscle soreness. So I’m taking the stance that trainers and careless pinterest memes should be banned from encouraging the pursuit of pain and soreness. Obviously, I’m not talking about a little discomfort; running through a side-ache isn’t the same game as running through knee pain.

If you’re dealing with constant pain during exercise, it’s time to back off and assess that pain, not drown it out and push through it {unless you are weeks away from the olympics, and even then…} More trainers are needed who can teach you to LISTEN to your body and check in with aches and pains and understand how to mitigate soreness. Here is a great article by Brett Contreras, The Glute Guy, about how pain needs to be treated from the top down, starting with mindset like we do here at Fit2B, and not from the bottom up, always pushing through it.

If you don’t believe that trainers don’t want to HURT you, here are a few quotes I’ve recently pulled off various personal trainer fan pages that I keep tabs on.

  • “[jane doe] had a special one on one POD with me today :) She is going to hurt tomorrow. Good work everyone!” 
  • “Sometimes you do have to hurt people to help them, not injure or train them incorrectly, but pain and hard work are transforming both physically and mentally.” (I’m so glad he clarified not to injure them, just put them in pain!)
  • A client repeating what her trainer said… “He thought that warming up well and foam rolling after were the best ways to manage muscle soreness, but that if you work hard, you’ll be sore, so deal.” 
  • “That pain is called lactic acid, and that soreness is called muscle fatigue, which is what your after!” … If you think I’m making that up, read this thread {CLICK} where that last quote comes from and where I talk about this subject on facebook and face ridicule from two trainers who say I’m talking B.S. and call me hater for defending my stance.

Hurting is good work? Just “deal” with soreness? What if pain transforms me in the WRONG direction? I now see three HUGE problems with the pain-method of training: First, it assumes the client has a life they can afford to hobble through in pain. Second, it assumes the client wants BIGGER muscles as well as stronger muscles. Third, it assumes the client is already strong enough to withstand micro-tears in their muscles. Of course, we do our due diligence as trainers and clubs with basic Personal Activity Readiness Questionnaires (PAR-Q’s) but – let’s be honest – that’s just to protect our hind-ends from law suits. Once we don’t see any glaring health issues, we plunk the new client into our “tried and true” routines with perhaps a few minor modifications.

Two things: First, this woman is completely intimidating and unrealistic. Second, this is terrible advice! If you feel pain, you need to STOP!!! Oh, and this move is NOT diastasis-safe!

What about moms? Those women who just carried 20+ pounds of baby, placenta and amniotic fluid under their abs for ten months (a.k.a. those who rely on personal trainers and instructors to have the most accurate and up to date info on core training because they need the most help) will be HARMED more than HELPED by traditional ab exercises. But if they tell a proud, self-assured trainer or group fitness instructor that they need something different, they will get a blank look (true story), a defensive retort about who knows more (true story) or – worse! – a request for the participant to find literature to back herself up (true story) … Shouldn’t the professional go do their own research? For once? Because of the injuries I suffered while trying to “keep up” with the latest and greatest in the fitness industry, I am now passionate about working with a segment of the population who has been injured by fitness trainers and instructors who are undereducated and have run a little too far with the pain principle. There is a myth out there that if we keep people in proper alignment, they won’t get hurt. I have focused on maintaining perfect alignment in everything – wait, don’t crunches take us out of alignment? – I do for years, but that didn’t keep me from pushing too hard and getting injured! And I shudder to think of where the people are who I trained so severely 10 years ago!

“So, if sore muscles don’t mean your workout was effective, what does? This one is easy… progress.
Are you getting stronger? Is the weight you’re lifting on each exercise gradually increasing at a realistic rate? If you’re trying to build muscle… is muscle being built? If you’re trying to lose fat… is fat being lost?
Your answers to these questions are what will let you know for sure if your workouts are actually working. Muscle soreness is just telling you that you changed something, did something your body wasn’t used to, or did an exercise that just so happens to make you more sore than others.
But in terms of effectiveness, it’s not telling you anything. Instead, use a workout log, a scale, a mirror, pictures, tape measure and common sense to judge whether or not what you’re doing is actually working. Those are the true indicators of progress.” -IntenseWorkout.com {CLICK for full article}  

When we teach people that “pain is just weakness leaving the body,” we teach them to ignore possible injury. When we teach people to “push through the pain,” we could be pushing them toward an injury. There is totally a place to “feel the burn.” However, with so many Americans already being injured with things we can’t see on the surface like diastasis, slight meniscus weakness or tearing, scar tissue from surgery, and poor nutrition when they come to us for help, shouldn’t our focus be on healing and recovery?  Too many programs and trainers fail to follow the principle of progression and allow people to start small, to listen to their body’s limits, to stay safe…. and people are getting hurt! I have come up with a whole site full of workouts that WILL NOT hurt people. They are safe. They are effective. They are fun. They are relaxing. They let the client progress in baby steps, gain confidence without hurting themselves more.

Here at Fit2B we specialize in fitness for those with diastasis recti and pelvic floor issues (A.K.A. The Average Mom) It is imperative that our clients begin their retraining by slowing down and tuning into their bodies. They need to STOP pushing through discomfort and pain while they learn how to move from their central core muscles. Or they will never get better. With up to 70% of women who have EVER had children still having existing diastasis after they’re done having kids (i.e. most female personal training clients in their 30’s will have it) we have to train them differently. We have to get them strong without hurting them more. And I’ve demonstrated that gentle fitness works with thousands all over the world. Fit2B works. And some do get sore with the harder workouts we offer, but – again – soreness isn’t the goal. Strength is the goal. Because we moms want to carry our kids without pain.

“I broke myself doing some of the popular ‘insane’ type workouts. I was always going for the soreness, for the workout that left me unable to move properly the next day because of all the ‘muscle fatigue’. I love fit2b because you taught me that I can heal and strengthen my body without going to extremes. Your workouts are exactly what I need, and I get stronger and leaner everyday while still being able to lift and chase my babies after each workout. I feel invigorated after a Fit2B workout, not hurt.” -Melissa M.

“I am just one of Beth’s many happy customers. I always injured myself in the past, eventually stopping me from doing any real gym workout, even the time I paid a trainer. I just didn’t know how to listen to my body. With Beth’s videos four times a week and no soreness (exertion and hard work, yes, soreness, no) I lost thirty pounds in just a few months of exercise after my last baby and got to a weight and pant size I hadn’t been since early high school when I was on two swim teams and two softball teams. No soreness. None. Only a healthy, happy feeling of exertion. I don’t feel it in my muscles then or later that day and afterwards have more energy than when I don’t do a workout. I am much stronger which makes me a nuch better mom, my balance and flexibility are much improved, and I workout regularly. And, most importantly, no injuries that stop progress and no dread of the pain of future workouts to overcome. It totally works!!” -Jennie G.

“As a mom of three, 3 years and under, I definitely don’t have time to be sore. I have greatly appreciated your workouts because I feel like my body is being equipped to do my mom job where as other workouts have made me feel sore trying to care for my kids and I ended up not exercising at all to avoid that.” -Audria C.

As part of my conclusion, I’d like to address the idea that all soreness comes from lactic acid. Indeed that was what was taught to me at the college level before 2001. Essentially, it’s mostly true BUT newer research has been looking at WHY lactic acid builds up. Soreness usually happens when muscles are taken to a point past fatigue {thus the idea that fatigue is also a goal… again, every mother says, “No thanks, I’m already tired.} or even failure where you can’t do another rep or take another step. However, I contend that if there is proper fueling, then muscles don’t fatigue as fast, failure is avoided, and lactic acid doesn’t build up as readily. For those who like concrete terms, research the following: tetanus, T-tubules, receptors and caffeine receptors. For regular peeps, suffice it to say that you need to find the sweet spot where you are fueled well, challenging yourself within your body’s limits, and you WILL change, you WILL improve, you WILL build muscle without the type of soreness that inhibits range of motion and has you hobbling and moaning. 

I’ll leave you with these other articles as food for thought. By posting these, I’m not associating myself with these sites or agreeing with everything they sell or advertise, just giving you “food” for thought. Thanks for reading!

Recovery Nutrition Guidelines After Hard Exercise

Berries to Prevent Muscle Soreness

Decreasing Post-Exertion Muscle Soreness: What’s the Best Way

A Revolution in the Understanding of Pain and Treatment of Chronic Pain (Fit2B is top down)

When Pain is a Blessing


9 comments:

  1. Danny-J

    March 8, 2012 at 11:40 am

    As a trainer, I see this all too often. Its upsetting because the goal of training isn’t always just to kick the clients ass the hardest in an hour, but LISTEN to what THEY want and modify things as necessary to create confidence and build the body at a pace that they can handle.
    While I sometimes tease, that I’m going to make my clients hurt or that they’re gonna feel it, I never go into a session with the intention of just seeing how hard I can push ti they break.
    That is irresponsible and downright unsafe

    Reply
  2. June Stoyer @OrganicGuru

    March 8, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Most people at some point are injured. The last thing anyone wants to do is to be pushed too far and exacerbate the injury. Working out is supposed to help the body, not harm it. Great post, Bethany!

    Reply
  3. Wendy Powell
    Wendy Powell

    March 9, 2012 at 2:09 am

    I figure moms’ bodies have been through enough… they’ve DONE the ‘pain’ bit!! As trainers we need to help them heal, then re-connect, then strengthen. Sure – shape, tone & lean fit bodies take work to achieve, but work that respects the body & cares for it.

    Reply
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  5. Profile wp-user-avatar wp-user-avatar-94 alignnone photo of Morgan Wilson
    morgan

    March 27, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    I had a trainer get absolutely giddy when I threw up during our first session. he said that was a sign it was working. I didn’t stick with him long after that!

    Reply
  6. Profile wp-user-avatar wp-user-avatar-94 alignnone photo of rosie_kate
    rosie_kate

    March 28, 2013 at 10:21 am

    When I was 17 I was in a car accident and ended up doing some physical therapy (for soft tissue injuries due to bad whiplash). I hated every minute of it. The therapist would push me until I was in tears and I would hurt for days afterward. Then just when I started feeling better, it was time for another session. It was only supposed to be a few sessions to learn some stretches and strengthening exercises to do on my own at home, but he kept having me come back, 2-3x per week for weeks and weeks. I finally quit going, even when they called and asked me to schedule an appointment.

    I like fit2b.us a WHOLE lot better. And I’m not a big fan of “working out” so I like that what I learn here I can easily apply to the daily work I do.

    Reply
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