Breaking through the pain barrier

If you don’t have any pain, how do you know that you’re making any gains?

That was the age old wisdom passed down throughout any gym. A little pain is worth it, as long as you’re making progress and seeing results. Who cares that you can barely walk or lift your arm above your head without pain. You look great!

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Speaking of pain and gain, did you see Pain & Gain with Mark Wahlberg and The Rock? No? Well finish this, then go watch Netflix.

In reality pain is a bad thing

Seriously though, pain is a bad thing.

Pain is that signal telling your body to stop, that something is wrong. Think of it like an emergency brake. Working through or around pain probably isn’t in your long term interests.

It would be like driving your car around with the emergency brake on. We’ve all done that before. We forget to take the emergency brake off, however our body doesn’t forget. It’ll just keep reproducing that pain signal till 1 of 2 things happen.

Either a severe injury happens, or your body just compensates for the movement to reduce the pain, which causes dysfunction and then we are right back to severe injury again.

Don’t overlook pains and aches

Over the summer, I was sprinting a lot and overlooking nagging pains in my calves and what resulted was a lot of frustration, but a lot of trigger points in my calves.

I had to take care of myself better than I was. This came with trigger point work, barbell smashing, getting worked on by an LMT and icing after each sprint workout.

Eventually I healed and no longer felt that same pain. The pain was there telling me to slow down and to stop what I was doing. Had I not finally listened, I may have been in a worse place.

How do we break through that pain barrier?

Now what do we learn from my struggles and stupidity? How do we stay out of the pain cycle?

First, we need to recognize whether we’re actually feeling pain, or if we’re just in a little bit of discomfort. There’s a big difference. You can make it through discomfort. It’s harder to work through pain and it can be detrimental to your overall well-being.

Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) & Foam Rolling

A great way to make sure you eliminate major pain is by taking care of the minor aches and pains through foam rolling and other SMR techniques like trigger point work or smashing.

What this does is increase blood flow and relieve tension in the muscles along with increasing range of motion and oxygen to the area. The intent is to try to break up adhesions and release restrictions you may have in your muscles and fascia.

SMR and foam rolling are like flossing and brush your teeth. They are maintenance work for your muscles, keeping them healthy and functional.

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Massage

If SMR and foam rolling are the flossing and brushing of teeth for your muscles, then massage is like going to the dentist.

A great massage therapist can help get to spots that tools cannot, and can provide much needed relief (thankfully we have on staff at AMP). An LMT can be great for treating specific areas, following a treatment plan to increase range of motion and break up adhesions.

Mobility

Mobility is much different from just stretching in that you are maintaining stability while increasing mobility. Because without stability, we’d all just collapse into a pile of mush. Muscley mush.

Coming soon is a mobility article that will go into depth on what this entails.

Other Recovery Strategies

Sleep

One of the best ways to break through the pain barrier is to get proper rest. This means sleep. Sleep is when your body makes all its repairs and resets you for the next day.

If your body isn’t regrouping due to lack of sleep, it will surely break down at some point. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but somewhere down the line your body will meet its breaking point. So get your sleep.

Ice treatment

You can additionally treat with ice as it will temporarily provide relief for pain. However, without breaking down your movements and seeing how or why your body is in pain, you will stay in the same cycle of pain.

Stretching

I’m only including this because I know the question is going to be asked. “Can I stretch?” The answer is “It depends.”

Sometimes when we feel pain, we have the urge to stretch. Stretching “feels good” and it’s probably what you’ve always done.

Stretching found its way into the fitness industry years ago when no one was stretching. It became a cure all for those who weren’t doing any other form of recovery. However, now we know better and learned much more about the body.

Something is better than nothing right? No, in many scenarios, stretching is going to be counterproductive. It can bring more instability and pain to an area that doesn’t need it.

Most stretching has more of a neurological adaptation rather than a muscular one. Meaning that your body tolerates the stretch more so than the fibers actually stretching out. So stretching is going to be a “sometimes” strategy for pain. It should only be used when necessary.

Takeaway

Pain is your bodies’ emergency brake. It’s telling you to stop whatever it is your doing. There is a distinct difference between pain and discomfort.

Some exercises are not going to be comfortable or hard. That’s a good thing. Those will teach you to grow, to excel, to be better. Pain, either acute or chronic, is a cry for help.

Employ these strategies to break through that pain cycle.

Now seriously, go watch that movie.

Read more from WatchFit Expert Chris Cooper

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