Pain is NOT normal; push the limits sensibly

Ouch it hurts, but I was told it is normal. 

I have heard this many a time. From athletes willing to invest in sport and exercise or give it a try for its benefits. These athletes usually set themselves targets because they themselves want to or someone around them suggested it. Some sign up for big events as they want to prove they can or are driven into it because of well marketed events.

All this is great. Yet, after listening to many tales of agony, I am left wondering. While their drive to be fit and exercise helps them get healthy and be more productive, how many of these athletes are causing themselves more damage than good?  

Take, for example, Ram (name changed) who signed up for the Goa IronMan 70.3 scheduled in October this year. He has 10 months to train and signed up with a coach who has done a couple of IronMan events before and mentioned that Triathlon aspirants are his forte.

It has been three years since Ram had an active lifestyle. Life took over then and kept him busy with a desk job. Ram took on this challenge to get back to fitness and have a feasible target while at it.  It was all very exciting until Ram could not stick to the schedule proposed by his coach.

He tried, he was in pain. He gave himself a few days’ break, tried again and pushed himself to get moving and he was in pain again. Even easy workouts were painful. His coach told him pain is normal and he would get better and insisted that he continue.

Ram wanted to find a solution and have his cycling analysed to be sure it was not leading to problems. It was his strongest sport and he still could not complete a workout without agony. We met and I realised during the physical assessment that his body is not ready for the rigour he wished to put it under.

I expressed my concerns as I could tell that he really needed to work on strength to be able to achieve his target. I could see a lot going on and had to tell him he needs to see a sports physiotherapist soon before injury could sabotage his plans. He saw a specialist sports physio who advised him strength training before endurance training. 

Ram is part of a small fraction of athletes who consult specialists and do not neglect niggles, but the majority in India follows what worked for a friend or a friend’s friend. In most cases the person providing advice and suggestions has been on the path and believes he/she knows everything they need to know.

What is usually forgotten is that every human body is unique and has undergone unique experiences that will be highlighted when it is put through overload, theories behind training plans could be generalised but are not a one size fits all.

Athletes with ambition grit their teeth and follow a regimen proposed despite pain because they are led to believe it is normal. Until it is too late and injuries which sometimes take a very long time to heal become their constant companions.

I know from experience, personal and professional, that pain is not normal. The human brain is smarter than we usually give it credit for. Allowing it to distinguish between discomfort from fatigue after a heavy exercise and pain, will go a long way in keeping the body away from trauma.  

If you have a fitness target in mind, please remember the following:

  • You are unique, both your body and you’re circumstances.  
  • Pain is NOT normal, fatigue is different from pain, recognise the difference
  • Set realistic targets, don’t be in a rush
  • What worked for your friend/coach may not work for you, know when it is not and respond accordingly
  • If you are suffering badly, something is wrong, trust your instincts don’t neglect them
  • Consult with a specialist, he/she is cheaper than lost time and expensive medical bills
  • Push your limits, but sensibly. 
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2 Replies to “Pain is NOT normal; push the limits sensibly”

    1. Ouch!! Sorry to hear Satish, been so long, hope you recovered and are on the way back to having more fun again. Stay in touch.

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