Take caution not to overexert yourself during a workout. (Photo Credit: NDABCREATIVITY via Adobe Stock)

So, we have nearly made it! The options for vaccines against COVID-19 are coming available, and more people are getting inoculated. That is awesome news, and I am really happy so many people are getting the shots. However, there is one glaring concern I have: people rushing back to the gym or group classes after protracted absences.

First, I strongly urge you not to go maskless. Reputable establishments should still be requiring face coverings, even if limitations on hours and capacity are being loosened. In my opinion, it is happening too quickly, but one must go with the flow, I guess. Aside from continuing the general protocols, I guess there isn’t much to add on this front.

However, if you have not been active for the last year, do be careful about how your enthusiasm drags you into Beast Mode prematurely. It’s quite likely you will need to build back up to what you were doing before, regardless of the activities you prefer. Something I have been hearing with alarming regularity is a terrible turn of phrase from the ’80s: No Pain, No Gain.

Just stop right there. No, no, no. Reject that outright. First, let’s examine the concept of discomfort, especially if you insist on attending ridiculously and notoriously destructive group classes in the Crossfit style. I would whole heartedly push you to do practically anything else, particularly if you are new to or recently returning to fitness training. Crossfit in general does not teach or promote good technique, and its competitive nature leads to alarming numbers of injuries. Just consider it.

Discomfort exists in degrees. Before we go further, remember this: You should feel effort in your muscles, not your joints. Discomfort in your neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, hips, knees, ankles, toes and spine is not healthful and should be addressed immediately. Something is amiss with your alignment and/or the direction of the action and/or the amount of resistance. Always protect your joints.

With that in mind, it isn’t pain you should be feeling. When you exercise correctly, there is a burn associated with it. That degree of discomfort is continuous and grows steadily as you approach temporary exhaustion. When you stop, you should feel yourself begin to recover from it immediately. Again, it should be felt in the muscles themselves. Is it a little alarming at first? Sure. But stressing your frame in this way is what will improve your fitness. Your tolerance for it will very quickly adapt.

What you definitely do not want to feel is sudden or extreme pressure, heat, grinding, popping, twinging, tearing, stabbing, cutting or snapping. Your response to that should be surprise and fear. That is different from dreading the mounting burn. You expect the burn, but pain should always be a shock. There is a difference between wondering if the burn is correct and knowing the pain is not. There is a difference between ending and the burning instantly subsiding, and the pain lingering on past the finish. Do not ignore that, and do not work through it.

What I am about to describe is totally subjective and in no way is meant to be a specific measure of discomfort. It’s a clue meant to remind you to pay attention. Your face: What is it doing? If you are making crazy contortions with your eyes, nostrils, mouth or neck, it can indicate that you are working past a safe zone of effort. If you cannot keep your face relatively relaxed, consider where your exertion is actually going. Are you trying to grow your booty or your frown lines?

Also, are you using controlled motion in all directions that focuses on stressing the muscles only? If you are heaving, throwing, rocking, jerking, sliding, mooshing, collapsing, dropping or in any way using momentum or gravity to assist your work, you are likely doing too much. This is nearly always accompanied by poor alignment and increases your risk of injury. Work up to the moment that sits just short of failure, not beyond it.

You should feel gratified on some level when you finish, perhaps relieved. Definitely accomplished. You should not feel destroyed. Definitely not defeated. There may be some swelling and plumping after you are done, but it shouldn’t be throbbing or debilitating.

As you regain your footing, all of this will return and improve. What matters most is that you respond to what your body is telling you. Distinguish in your mind what you mean when you think or say, “This hurts!” Does it hurt? Or does it burn? Is it uncomfortable, or is it painful? Discomfort is growth, but pain is destructive. If I were to offer an antidote to No Pain, No Gain, I would suggest this: No Burn, No Earn.

Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.

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