No Pain, No Gain?


Coach Caleb’s Corner

                                                         No Pain, No Gain?

Have you ever completed a training session and felt so sore afterwards that you considered taking a sick day? Maybe you actually have taken a sick day. I know I’ve been there. Fore some reason it’s one of those things the bro-science guys love to brag about.

“Bro, I was so sore, I couldn’t lift up my arms!” “Oh yeah? Well I was so sore I couldn’t get off the toilet without help!” “I can top that! I was so sore, my dog had to call 911 otherwise I would have died there!”

You get the idea. Perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but I’ll admit to having been a participant in a few such conversations… a fact I’m not particularly proud of, but things like this do actually get thought and spoken. Which raises a few questions;

“Do I need to feel really sore after a workout to get the best results in training?” “If I don’t feel sore after a training session, am I no longer making progress?” “Will I need a sick day after my first hard training session?”

Here are the quick answers;

“No.” “Nope.” “That’s up to you.”

Quick story for you. Some of you might have heard this one, if you’ve trained with me for awhile. When I was 16 years old, I had a brief and tortuous bromance with lifting weights in the high school weight room. I really liked the idea of having the power to invoke positive physiological changes to my wiry young frame through disciplined practice, just like Bruce Wayne, in the name of becoming something like… Batman! I recruited an unsuspecting friend to be my Robin, and dragged him to the weight room to perform a top secret training session using the coveted soviet Russian technique I’d heard about called a “Rep Ladder.” The exercise of choice for the training session? You guessed it; heavy Biceps Curls. (Most 16 year old boys want to put on a gun show at some point.) We put 50lbs on the curl bar, and over the course of an hour, we passed it between us performing an ascending rep count; I did one, he did one, I did two, he did two, etc. By the time we got up to eight on our little ladder (the plan was to go up to ten and then go back down), our technique was pathetic and we were risking a stroke with each attempted rep. We called it a day, somewhat defeated. The following morning, both of us awakened excruciatingly sore and unable to straighten our arms! We spent the entire day at school with our arms bent, elbows sticking out as if we were impersonating chickens. The worst part was that I was acting in the school play that evening, and I wasn’t playing a chicken, so I had to ask two fellow cast members to each take an arm and forcibly stretch me out before every one of my scenes!

Perplexed by my condition, I consulted our gym teacher to get some help. He felt my biceps and said, “You are pumped!” I thought this was a compliment, but was worried about the consequences of being “pumped.” He chuckled and explained that exercise and especially weight training causes minor trauma to the muscles involved, resulting in the tension, swelling and soreness I experienced; similar to the reaction that occurs after an injury. The soreness was simply my body’s way of letting me know I needed recovery (lots of it, apparently) before I should resume the activity. Furthermore, the best thing I could do was to get moving again but in a far less aggressive fashion to help circulate the blood and speed the recovery process. I asked if I had used too much weight or did too many reps. He replied, “You did too many reps with that weight.” My confused look caused him to elaborate. “When you first train a particular movement pattern, you will likely feel some soreness afterwards as the muscles begin to adapt, but if you use an appropriate load and rep scheme (i.e. use a program and a coach) then it won’t be debilitating. After a few sessions with proper recovery in between, the soreness will dissipate as your strength and work capacity increases. Progress will continue and even accelerate although you are no longer experiencing the soreness, as your skills are improving and your body is adapting more efficiently to the stimulus. After enough exposures to the exercise, the time will eventually come to change the stimulus otherwise a plateau occurs, and the whole process starts over again. Unfortunately, you set yourself back a bit by overdoing it, and now you have to wait before you can start up again!” Little did I know I had learned some valuable lessons for my future as a coach. At the time I thought I wanted to be an actor, so it was a long while before I needed them, but it all came around eventually.


So… Don’t feel as though you have to kill yourself in the gym and feel excruciatingly sore after every session. Remember, it is possible to do Biceps Curls until you have painful chicken wings. Totally not worth it! (It was several days before I could even straighten my arms comfortably.) Also, don’t feel as though you are making no progress by not feeling sore. You are getting stronger and more skilled! Finally, don’t change up the stimulus or programming until several exposures to the exercise to maximize your results and reap the benefits of your hard work. Taking a sick day after the first day on a new program is optional but shouldn’t ever be mandatory!

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