In this post we discuss how to exercise without pain and why rethinking what exercise actually is might be helpful.
Before we begin lets’s first clarify what the word exercise actually means.
Whilst it’s a word we routinely use, its precise meaning is rarely considered.
Which of the following would you classify as exercise?
Playing a round of golf.
Doing some DIY.
Taking the dog for a walk.
All can be classed as activity, but I wouldn’t consider any of them exercise.
The key ingredient of exercise is that you’re purposefully trying to elicit a specific physiological change. In other words the exercise is designed to stimulate a specific adaptation within your body.
That’s not to say any of those activities won’t promote health in some way, but that’s not their primary purpose.
When you play golf for example, your focus is on getting the ball in the hole, not your body.
Whilst you might pay attention to your technique, you’re not concerned with exercising the muscles that rotate your hips. Focusing on that would only detract from the task.
In some cases you’ll also happily continue with the activity despite the fact it’s causing you pain.
If you were exercising, my guess is you would likely stop.
Reconceptualising what exercise is
In order to move towards pain free exercise, it might be necessary to rethink what exercise means to you.
There’s a very small percentage of the population who exercise regularly and see it as an integral part of their lives. If you’re reading this then that probably describes you.
Here’s the crucial factor though, how much of that exercise is programmed and progressed appropriately for your body?
Many of us chase arbitrary targets that may or may not be beneficial for us. Taking 10,000 steps a day for example, or targeting the number of calories we output in an exercise class.
These are goals that might enable us to pass a medical at the doctor’s office, but what benefit are they if a by product is pain?
Exceeding the capacity of your muscular system
This abundance of activity can have the unintended consequence of overloading areas of your muscular system, whilst other areas are neglected.
Can you imagine an athlete randomly taking exercise classes or obsessing over an arbitrary step count?
Of course not. Every part of their training is planned and carefully progressed.
Many of us train with the intensity of an athlete without the necessary planning and progression.
This leads to some areas of our muscular system becoming overworked, either chronically, or more acutely.
You may not be an athlete but if you want to avoid pain then careful progression is even more important for you than it is for them.
How to use exercise to become pain free
Perhaps now you have a better understanding of why you’re experiencing issues when you exercise.
So what can you do now?
The first step is to adjust your activities to reduce your pain.
Nobody likes to hear this but if an activity is causing you issues, then you might be digging yourself a deeper hole by continuing. And deeper holes take longer to come out of.
The positive news is that in most cases exercise will be an integral part of the solution.
Think about it like this, you’re currently breaching the capacity of your muscular system.
By reducing the activities that appear most implicated in that breach, you’re taking the pressure off your muscular system a little.
At the same time you need to identify which areas of your muscular system require assistance.
We use the Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) thought process to do this.
If you don’t have access to an MAT practitioner, carefully check for range of motion deficits around the major joints of your body. This will usually elicit motions that are more difficult to generate on your painful side.
This will increase the tolerance of the muscles involved and enable you to return to your activities when you’re strong enough to do so.
Many of us hold on to routines that aren’t serving us. Pain is your body’s way of letting you know your current exercise routine isn’t working.
If you love exercise this isn’t a reason to get frustrated with your body, but rather an opportunity to listen to it and learn how to train it better.