The Need for a New Maxim

Is anyone else sick of “No pain, no gain!”

I thought that died in the early nineties, but occasionally I’ll hear it pop up again. In most cases it’s at a gym or similar workout setting, and it always makes me think of some steroided-out musclehead getting in someone’s face, thinking it’s going to pump them up. It works for other steroided-out muscleheads, but the rest of us just want to reach for a towel and wipe the guy’s spittle off our face.

Not to mention the idea of pain makes Average Joe all the more reluctant to get off his duff and start working out. It’s exactly what makes a lot of people say “To Hell with this! I’ll eat what I want and die happy.”

There is truth in the quote, though. It comes from Nietzsche’s “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” In fitness, if you’re not getting outside your comfort level, you’re not doing yourself any favors. You need to get outside of that comfort zone, to force your body to adapt to new levels of activity, if you want to see any improvement.

Working on the stretching machine in karate class last night, however, it occurred to me there’s a fine line between discomfort and pain. When I cranked the machine out to the point my legs were just a bit tight, I was at still in my natural range of motion (albeit the limit of that range). I can already do it, so stopping there isn’t going to make me any more flexible or get my kicks any higher. I cranked the machine a bit further and I started to feel a strong pull. It was uncomfortable, and sure, a little painful, but bearable.

It was outside the comfort zone, and a sign I’m pushing for a new limit. Now I’ve got something to adapt to, without it being so unbearable that I want to quit. On this machine, we start at that point, stretch, and then we crank the machine another notch and do it again.

The machine has a handy measurement of the angle of your legs. As I pushed for that third click, I was fine halfway through. When it clicked into place, though, I had a jolt of pain and let out a grunt. It would appear 125 degrees is my absolute limit at the moment, and if I had started there I have no doubt I would never want to put my ass in that machine again. It’s not going to do me any good if I’m afraid to use it.

So I propose a new maxim:

“If you’re not feeling it, you’re not fixing it.”

There’s no reason to be in pain. But if you’re not breathing heavy or working up a good sweat while you’re working, you’re not going to change anything. If you’re not sore in the morning — I’m talking discomfort, not in pain so terrible you can’t move — your body’s not adapting.

Get out there and feel it. Find your limits and exceed them, without killing yourself.

I hope I can remember that when I start that 5k run program next month…

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

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  1. Troy says:

    When do you start this 5K program, Mike?

    I need to get off the couch and thought I would do it with you.

    Take care,

  2. Mike says:

    I haven’t decided anything more specific than “March.” Heh. I’m waiting until it just gets a little bit warmer. At least 50’s. I’m going to pick up a Nike+iPod setup shortly, too.

  3. Mikey says:

    The fuddpuckers I worked out with in the early eightys didn’t like the maxxim, either. Their position was that pain equaled damage, and damage wasn’t necessary. Some of these guys had muscles on their foreheads, so they knew their stuff. I was a wannabe, so I listened. Their revised maxim – “No strain, no gain” is closer to the truth in how weight-lifting create tiny tears in your muscles, followed by acid buildup, followed by new muscle growth.

    Or perhaps tiny, gay elves bring used condoms packed with protein , which they inject into huge, sweaty, but sleeping biceps. When the sweaty musclemen awaken, it’s with hugerererer biceps, sheepish grins (though they don’t know why), and a slight sashay that doesn’t fade until late morning.

    Life is about choices. Choose the facts you like.

    (From beautiful downtown Toronto)

  4. Mike says:

    Yep, “no strain, no gain” makes sense, too. It comes down to the line between discomfort and pain. To me, muscle soreness after a workout is discomfort. If those little tears in the muscle fiber felt good, we’d all be built like Schwarzenegger in his prime. If it hurts so bad you can’t move, then you’ve done something wrong.

    As for the elves… Did you skip your meds again? ;)