We are aware that vigourous physical activity can sometimes come with its trade-offs of aches and pains, which can make it quite challenging to work around them. However, if we were to stop exercising at the first sign of discomfort and aches, then we’d probably never make any real progress at all.
When it comes to exercising and training, how do you ensure that you're not mentally daunted by the prospect of pain?
Mind over matter
According to Sports Psychologist Daniel Dymond, our minds' respond differently to different levels of stress, and it's important to differentiate between pain and discomfort. Sometimes, effort and discomfort work in tandem to tell the body is being exerted, and people tend to recognise this as “good pain”.
"Our limbic structure in the brain, which is responsible for the experience and expression of emotion, can take over in times of stress, and responds with comfort seeking or distress avoiding responses," explains Dymond.
Pick your discomfort
Overall fatigue after a gruelling squat session is typically seen as good pain because it is a reflection that your body was put under sufficient stress to grow, such as strengthening the muscles to cope with the increased physical load.
However, persistent burning or sharp, jarring sensations are “bad pain” which shouldn't be ignored as they could result in a serious injury. The human body is amazingly adept at throwing out signs and signals – learn to listen to them and do what’s necessary.
"When we're ill, we often tend to become fixated on what we aren't able to do. Retraining your focus on what you can do instead of what you can't will give you a more accurate view of yourself and the world at large," says Dr Ellen Slawsby, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Being injured is one of the most frustrating problems to encounter when you are an athlete. However, you should allow yourself to be a better athlete by thinking positively as it helps manage your expectations better. Instead of beating yourself up mentally about it, focus your efforts on optimising your recovery. Things like getting enough rest and engaging in active recovery may not receive much attention in the sporting world, but they are a crucial aspect of any athlete’s development.
There will always be risks associated with hard training, but that’s where the rewards lie. Take your injury as a learning opportunity – perhaps you were careless with your technique or are guilty of neglecting a weak link in training?
There is a marked difference between pain caused by training and training for pain – you want more of the former and none of the latter. The purpose of training is to improve, and while progress cannot be made without discomfort, pain by itself is no indicator of improvement. While you shouldn’t fear pain, you shouldn’t seek it either. Be smart with your training and your pain will work for you instead of against you.