Updated: Jun 6
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Currently in the fitness Industry there has been lots of criticism of the old notion: “no pain, no gain”. What this means is that when training to have an effective workout either during or after you should experience some pain. However, there has been current ideologies that if you are sore after a workout this means that you have done too much in your workout. They go further to suggest that you can equally get as good results doing less without the soreness.
A lot of it started when successful MMA coach Firas Zahabi appeared on the Joe rogan podcast, he went as far as saying you should never feel sore the day after working out. His opinion is that if ever you feel sore the next day this means you’ve done to much.
I’m sure some of you are in agreement, and others are wondering what about Arnold Schwarzenegger who was often reported throwing up in the gym doing insane 5 hours workouts. Or, what about the great Muhammad Ali when asked how my reps do you do in the gym? he replied: “I don't count my [reps] I only start counting when it starts hurting because they're the only ones that count”.
So pain must be good right? … well I don’t think it’s that straight forward…
First we must address what is pain/soreness? The soreness we get after training is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is a result of the recovery process. DOMS is caused by myofibril tears (muscle strains). The micro-trauma in the muscle that's been trained results in an inflammatory response.
The pain we experience during a workout in most instances is safe and to avoid this would lead to a lack in results and our goals plateau or even heading backward. On a basic understanding that in order to get better whether that means: faster, stronger, or more muscular some sort of overload need to occur. Over load simply means to do more than your currently doing. So for example, James wants to get stronger at squats. Last week he managed 60kg for 4 sets 8 reps. This week James managed to squat 65kg for equal reps and sets therefore, James achieved overload! The straight forward view is that in order to be a better version of yourself you need to do things that you’ve never done before. This doesn’t tell us how hard James is working and how much pain he’s experiencing. However, what we can measure is what is referred to as the ‘rate or perceived exertion’ (RPE). Which means measuring how hard something is on a scale of 1 to 10. For example during something like jogging, 10 would be running away from a lion. Or during a weight session like James we would use RPE slightly different and it would stand for reps left in the tank during any given set. Therefore, 10 would be if I held a gun to your head you couldn’t get another rep, 8 RPE would mean you have 2 reps left and 1 RPE would mean you could complete another 9/10 reps (a very easy set or a warmup perhaps). RPE 10 would feel pretty painful during the set and after!! This is often referred to as ‘failure’ because its the closest you can get to failure with out missing the rep.
Its worth adding that true absolute muscular failure is slightly different and is experienced normally when doing several sets or when doing a drop set. This is where there may be such a high level of hydrogen ion and lactic acid accumulation in the muscles that they can no longer function like they need to without having a little rest and recovery. As you can imagine this is also pretty painful! Ouch! The flaw in this, is that the total volume of the session may be lower as a result, or during the remaining sets of the session they may now lack quality as your muscle are exhausted. Its worth adding the harder the training session is the longer it takes for you to recover in between sessions. This can be a problem if you go too hard in a session it will mean you need more days to rest before you can train that particular quality again. And when training: strength, hypertrophy, endurance or really anything, your ability to train that particular quality more frequent is going to lead to the best results.
To conclude, during a session I think pain is necessary for change! However, during every set, rep, bout of cardio you are constantly training at a RPE of 10 and feeling like throwing up then of course this may lead to over training. Here is a clue for you….you are not actually improving! Varying the RPE between 6-8 for most of your workouts, sometimes RPE 9, and occasionally RPE 10 (1-2 times per week) is advised to reach better results, while also allowing your body to rest and recover! As mentioned above, on occasion the day after your training you will experience some DOMS. The same RPE scale can be used to decide if yesterdays workout was to hard. For example, if you’re experience DOMS above a RPE 6 you probably did too much. That being said, be mindful that if the session involved new exercises or if you’re a beginner you may still experience some DOMS as a novelty stimulus can often create more disruption and feel a lot worst.
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