They say no pain, no gain.
That is a phrase often associated with working out for better health and fitness.
It is also a phrase that may have a small amount of truth to it, but only a small amount. That small amount depends on your definition of the word pain.
Yes, working out may cause a little pain, but that doesn't mean you are getting a "gain." If you are in pain from your workout, you are most likely moving one step forward and two steps back.
Possibly "no discomfort, no gain" would be a better way to think about working out. Seldom does being overly sore mean you had a good workout. Soreness indicates you have pushed your body harder than it is used to. The soreness does not always indicate a good workout; basically it indicates you have done something your body is not used to. You have caused microscopic tears to your muscle fibers that they will need to heal from.
A little stiffness or a little soreness from your workout is perfectly acceptable; debilitating soreness is not.
To ensure "gains" from your workout, small incremental improvements are what you need. If you are used to walking a mile a day, try an extra tenth of a mile, or make your mile time quicker. If you usually do three sets of 10 reps in the gym, try adding a couple extra reps at the same weight. Try grabbing a slightly heavier weight and try dropping to three sets of six to eight reps with good form.
Repetitions are usually given in a range. Say the range of reps you are given is 10-15 repetitions for three sets. Your goal is a weight initially where you can perform three sets of 10 repetitions with good form. As your strength increases, you increase your repetitions to three sets of 15 reps. Once you have achieved three sets of 15 repetitions, it is time to make a small increase in the weight, drop your repetitions back to 10 and gradually increase back to 15 repetitions.
The same thought process can be used with your cardiovascular workouts. If your treadmill workout has your walking at 3 mph for 30 minutes, increase your speed a little bit. Try incorporating faster intervals of speed like 3.5 mph for one minute before going back to your 3 mph.
Your body will adapt to the demands you regularly impose on it. If a workout has you sore and unable to do your usual workout for days afterward, it did not benefit you. However, a gradual increase of intensity performed regularly will help you achieve the results you are looking for.
The results don't come from yesterday's workout, nor do they come from tomorrow's workout. The results come from the workouts that you continually do. It is consistency that allows you to get results. Often, you may not feel like working out — those are the days you go ahead and "punch the clock." Go do your workout; get it over with. It may not be your best workout, but it is another step toward the results you want.
Larsen Daehnick is an exercise specialist at the Sam B. Cook Healthplex where he has been working for 20 years. He has a master's degree in exercise physiology from the University of Missouri - Columbia. He likes the wide range of people he works with and the freedom to challenge himself to learn and grow while he helps others improve themselves.