The difference between pain and progress: know your words
“How’s this feel?”
“Where are you feeling this one?”
“Does this feel okay?”
As clients of trainers know, their PFTs want to know about their feelings, and not just about how their day is going. A crucial element of exercise is the relationship between muscles and the sensors that interpret its movement, the nervous system. Together, they work in neuromuscular pathways, allowing your brain to understand what is happening to your body.
Trainers and hopefully spotters watch for when you are in danger of truly hurting yourself and when you’re just working hard. We also want to make sure your body position is correct for your specific build, engaging the muscles or muscle groups we’re aiming for. We’re body language readers, not mind readers; your descriptions of your senses allows us to know…
- when to push further and when to back off
- when to modify a movement and when to correct form
- when you’re just wanting to give up because it’s hard and wahwahwah keep going
We also want to teach your body how to move properly and how to recognize proper movement. Pain, or the perception of pain as it may be, prevents us from doing our jobs when we get told everything hurts.
Let’s talk words.
“Hurt” is a word that gets used the most by people new training, but it is not necessarily the best word to describe what you’re feeling. Oh hey, a handy training not-a-thesaurus to figure out when it’s a good time to use the word hurt and when it is time to use other words…
Hurt means if you keep going, you are going to or already have sustained damage to your body, and it will need to be rested or repaired. Hurt means you have to stop immediately. This pain can relate to injury and arthritic issues (that is, no more physical cushioning within the joints.) What hurt does not mean: tired, fatigued, stretching, or burning. It can mean straining or sore. Let’s learn what these other words mean so we can put them into your training toolbox for a better verbal relationship with your trainer and your body!
“My legs are tired.”
The word tired in a training setting means you can keep going, but it is difficult to move because your muscles are so fatigued, they’re shaking when you apply stress to a movement. Fatigued is a fancier way of saying your muscles are crapping out because they’ve given all they’ve got for the set or, in more intense situations, for the day. Letting your trainer know your muscles have reached the point of a fatigue allows her to know you’ve reached your breaking point, and it is time to adjust what you are doing if she wants you to continue the movement. Fatiguing is the partner in crime with “maxing out” or “lifting to failure,” which are fancy ways of saying your body can’t take no more.
“I think I’m straining my back right now.”
These two are close to the term “hurt,” much more than fatiguing. Straining or pulling (grade one in the graphic lifted from healthtap) signals an incorrect movement or something within your body’s kinetic chain is too tight to perform the action correctly. Damage will occur if the motion continues. Absolutely do not be afraid to tell your trainer something is pulling, straining, or tight; your trainer can give you an active stretch to target your limiting factor (the tight thing) or give you a rehab exercise as homework to prevent this strain from occurring again.
“My butt is burning from this!”
This word is the good one! It’s the word we’re after.
Burning generally implies the muscle or muscle group is being utilized but is not into tired territory just yet. This one gets confused with the term hurt because the burning sensation can be perceived as uncomfortable. Our job is to find the sweet spot where you feel a burn but do not get so fatigued you must stop.
“The back of my arms are so sore from this morning’s bis and tris session.”
Sore is the thing that happens after the workout or sometimes after the end of a set. Soreness’s cause is up for debate by scientists and trainers alike — Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is a great topic to get lost in the internet for few hours — but we all know what it feels like: a job well done! It may also be a sign that you did not properly cool down or fuel your body after your workout, which is not so good. Soreness can be a mixture of aching and fatigue, and the ways to work with it are varied. Be sure to get that cooldown and stretching session in after your workout to lessen your incoming soreness. Five minutes can make all the difference!
“My neck can’t be stretched without excruciating pain.”
Stretching is sometimes painful, especially when focusing on particularly tight areas. Calves and pecs are generally major offenders in this part of the “hurt” world. When something is being stretched, take care to notice where the stress of the movement is worst and where it feels effective. That is, if the stretch is doing its job by lengthening the offending muscle, it’s a good stretch. If a stretch truly is in the hurt realm of pain, release pressure slowly until it becomes bearable. Stretches take patience and work!
Using succinct wording helps your trainer, your training buddy, and yourself to understand what the heck is happening to your body during your session. Challenge yourself by not using the word “hurt” inside the gym for a week. See what happens to your thought process and how you approach your workouts by striking it from your exercise vocabulary, just for a little bit.