I’ve heard lots of experts say that the idea of “no pain, no gain” is an old and unnecessary concept. The belief was that if you didn’t workout hard enough to cause muscle soreness the next day, then you didn’t get an effective workout. While it is true that you can get a great workout without causing delayed onset muscle soreness, you still need to push yourself to get any effects.
Studies have shown that people tend to overestimate the amount of energy they expend during exercise and underestimate how hard they are working. Go into any gym and you’ll see the majority of people are just casually going through the motions of exercise. It’s the reason people hire personal trainers or join fitness classes, they need some outside help to push them hard enough to get results.
You can push yourself on your own
A guiding hand is helpful, but it’s not ideal for every situation. Fortunately, you don’t need to push yourself for long periods of time, and anyone can get their intensity up for short bursts. Research has shown that [as little as 1 minute of intense exercise] can improve your health and fitness. I’ve written a great deal about the benefits of high intensity interval training. One of the biggest benefits is that it can confer great physical improvements in a short period of time. By breaking out of your comfort zone for short intervals, you get almost all the same benefits you would from that long, slow workout that you dread and eventually avoid. That’s why I recommend HIIT for people that hate exercise; because they’re more likely to actually stick with the program long term.
You don’t need to suffer for hours to successfully lose weight and improve your health, but you do need to get uncomfortable for a short period of time. If you never get your breathing up or never feel your muscles burning from lactic acid build up, then you’re not really doing HIIT. Short and INTENSE is the key, so make sure you get the intensity up when it is time to push it.
Exercise improves pain tolerance
I know intense exercise is unpleasant at first, but pushing yourself out of your comfort zone actually trains your body to be more tolerant of pain. Not only does exercise make your body more fit, but your exercise discomfort becomes less uncomfortable over time. This is another reason I recommend people start off with shorter workouts that they can accomplish. If you stick with it long enough, your ability to tolerate longer workouts will improve as well.
Don’t fear hunger
On the flip side of the health coin is diet, and this is another place where I tell people they need to embrace discomfort in the short term to make long term improvements in their life. I’m not saying you should starve yourself. As I’ve mentioned before, willpower has its limits, and if you try to completely starve yourself thin, you’ll just throw in the towel and overeat. That doesn’t mean you should never feel hunger. In our modern world, we have adapted to a level of continuous calories that results in us never feeling hungry. It’s so easy to find readily available calories that we use them to fill periods of boredom or in response to other body signals like thirst. I’ve dealt with many clients that were basically scared of hunger. The idea of allowing their body to adapt to a lesser amount of calories on a daily basis made them far too uncomfortable. Just like with starting a new exercise routine, starting a new, healthier diet will require a short period of adjustment.
What you need to adjust is your cravings, not your hunger. Most of us got into the habit of eating long before our bodies actually signaled hunger. TThis is why I recommend people load up on whole fruits and vegetables as well as lots of water to respond to these cravings. Switching in low-calorie options for the old high-calorie standbys will show you how most of your discomfort around food is the fear that you might get hungry rather than dealing with actual body signals. There will be actual hunger from time to time, but when that happens, just eat something good for you. Deal with what’s real and your body will adapt to the lower calorie levels that you were meant to consume.
It’s an acquired taste
I have an analogy I always tell my clients when I explain that not only will the discomfort subside (from both exercise and eating less), but eventually they’ll start to like it. No one drinks alcohol because they like the taste, they drink it because they like how it makes them feel afterwards. I always get the response of “I like the taste of beer” or “I like the taste of scotch” etc., and my response is that “you like the taste now because you now associate it with that feeling you get afterwards. If you truly liked the taste of beer, you would drink nonalcoholic beer or nonalcoholic scotch at your desk all day long, but you don’t. What you drink is delicious tasting sugary drinks because that’s a whole different reward cycle that you’ve fallen into.
People that exercise routinely have learned to love the rewards of how they feel after their workout. People that eat healthy the majority of the time have learned that passing on all that refined sugar in processed foods makes them feel so much better. Once you acquire a taste for exercise and clean eating, it changes from a chore you need to force yourself to do to something you gladly find the time for. Just embrace the discomfort for a little while and you’ll be surprised by how quickly it will change to enjoyment.