We’ve all heard it said before when it comes to exercise, “No pain, no gain!” The context, of course, is in reference to the fact that we’ll feel sore or tired following exercise and, in particular, strength training, and it is a sign we are pushing ourselves enough that the body needs to adapt to get stronger, faster, more endurance, etc.

However, although this phrase is probably well-intentioned, and helpful given the right context, it is easily misunderstood and blown out of proportion – and it comes to hurt us rather than strengthen our health.

I’ll give you two examples – one silly, and the other all too common. Growing up, I had a LOT of dental and orthodontic work to do to correct my teeth. I had appointments starting from 3rd grade through Junior year of high school. So, I wanted to make sure I followed my orthodontist and dentist’s advice and not make things worse! I was sure to rigorously and thoroughly brush my teeth each night – and had a little sand-timer they gave me to be sure I brushed long enough. And I thought, “no pain, no gain”. So I brushed my teeth hard. Therefore, I got some gum inflammation (reddening) and they were tender and sometimes could bleed easily. My orthodontist corrected me, saying (to paraphrase) – “No pain no gain? Yeah, that does not apply at all to your gums. That’s totally different – your gums are not muscle.” Silly, I know – how could I think that?

But here’s another example that some of you might identify with, or know someone who would identify with this. I have spoken and been working with a number of clients who are in their twenties to mid-thirties, did lots of track/cross-country in highschool, maybe even went on to do half-marathons or marathons and/or lots of high intensity circuit training and the like. Then, time goes on, and maybe after enough time, or after having the first or second kid – things start to really fall apart. They come to our practice at EPIC Functional Medicine because they feel little energy, their period/cycle is irregular, hormonal problems, can’t lose weight, and on and on. We run labs – and little surprise we find their adrenals are tanked, hormones depleted and out of balance, let alone many other findings. 

What can feel bewildering for many of us is when we think, “I don’t understand, I was doing healthy things!” But like all things in life – moderation is key. Too much of a good thing, even water, can hurt us. For some reason, it seems that overdoing it in the area of exercise can be a big blind spot.

It is important, therefore, to listen to our physical bodies – just like how we should listen to our body in regard to diet, stress, etc. So how do we do that with exercise? 

One of my favorite resources on this is a podcast by Mind Pump (www.mindpumppodcast.com) episode 1142 “9 Signs You Are Overtraining.” They make a great point that we can fall into the trap of “. . . if some is good then more is better.” In the podcast summary they list those nine things to keep an eye out for:

  1. Frequent injury or chronic pain
  2. Extended muscle soreness
  3. Decreased performance
  4. Insomnia or changes in sleeping patterns
  5. Excessive fatigue
  6. Loss of appetite and cravings
  7. Getting sick very easily
  8. Mood changes, agitated or depressed
  9. Metabolic imbalances

They further go on to discuss that, while it may not be uncommon to have a couple of these things, if there are four or more that are clearly noticed, then we are overdoing it and need to change course to help our bodies heal and not be further harmed.

So, I encourage you to consider this in your life, and ask yourself if you’re pushing too hard or not with your exercise. You can check out the podcast for more details, as a suggested starting point. To put one last thought in for perspective – we all know stress can be deleterious to our health. Exercise in moderation helps our stress, but in excess IS a stress. Therefore, let us be watchful that our exercise does not turn into another source of chronic stress in our lives.

To you health and wellbeing,

Lead Health Coach, Dan Tribley

EPIC Functional Medicine