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Will I Have Aches and Pains from Exercising?

by jeff denson

Will I have aches and pains from exercising? Probably. Will you get have aches and pains if you DON'T exercise. Probably.

The first goal of any fitness program should be to be healthy and feel good.

The first goal of any fitness program should be to be healthy and feel good. I personally believe that people who exercise vigorously, while suffering the occasional exercise induced aches and pains, suffer FEWER aches and pains than those who don't exercise vigorously. In other words, exercise prevents more aches and pains than it causes. So sure, you may have the occasional ache or pain from exercise, but how many aches and pains would you have if you didn't exercise? I can name plenty of people who don't exercise and constantly complain about their knees, back, hips, etc. I believe many of these aches and pains could be avoided with appropriate exercise. So the question shouldn't be does exercising cause aches and pains, but does exercising prevent more aches and pains than it causes?

Now of course, we're talking about the occasional once a year or so minor exercise pain. As stated earlier, the first goal of any fitness program should be to be healthy and feel good. You should NOT have pain on a regular basis from exercise. If you do, you need to reevaluate your exercise plan. And any exercise induced pain should be dealt with immediately. You may need to modify your workout or just take a few days rest. Don't continue an exercise that causes joint or tendon pain.

Exercising in general is dangerous and certainly carries a risk of injury along with the occasional sore joint or muscle. Lifting weights is certainly no exception. However, it should be noted the most dangerous piece of equipment in the gym is -- drum roll please -- the treadmill. Just the other day a lady at the gym fell off a treadmill, breaking her arm and banging her head. She's was one of the lucky ones (see story).

Let's face it, exercising is dangerous. Taking a shower is dangerous. Driving a car is dangerous. The list goes on. What you have to weigh is the risk to reward factor. A pulled muscle or sprained ankle will heal in a few weeks. A heart attack from being out of shape takes longer. You can strain your back doing squats and deadlifts. You can also strain your back unloading the dishwasher or reaching under the sink (I know people who've done it). Strengthening the back with squats and deadlifts can help prevent such injuries. Would you rather tell your friends you strained your back deadlifting 300 pounds or that you pulled it putting away the dish soap? In my opinion, people who exercise are less likely to suffer injuries during day to day activities than those who don't. Broken bones due to osteoporosis can be prevented for most people with just a few minutes of weight-bearing exercises each week. Building strength and stability in the ankles by doing overhead presses can greatly reduce the risk of ankle injuries. Resistance exercises strengthen bones and ligaments helping to prevent injuries.

For example, many of my clients, especially older ones, say they can't do squats because they have bad knees that hurt all the time. But after a few months of strengthening their knees with proper deep squats, they find that not only can they do squats with heavy weights, their knees feel better than they did before. The reason for this is quite simple if you think about it. As we get older, we tend to be less active and our knee muscles get weaker. And to compound problems, most of us gain a little extra weight. Eventually, the knee muscles are no longer strong enough to easily support your body weight. So what happens? Now instead of your muscles supporting your weight, it's your knee joints that take the punishment. So of course your knees start to hurt. This becomes a vicious cycle because the knee pain causes you exercise less. The lack of exercise causes your knee muscles to get weaker, and you gain more weight, which in turn puts more pressure on the knee joints which cause more knee pain, and the cycle repeats. To fix the problem, strengthen the muscles that support the knee joint. This is best done by deep squats. Use light weights at first and go as deep as possible. The deeper the better (as long as you are flexible enough to do them in good form - You do work on your flexibility right?). To strengthen the knees, you need do at least a parallel squat (far enough down so the thighs are parallel to the ground). Half squats (as done by most gym rats) where you barely bend the knees do little to strengthen the knees and put a lot of pressure on the joints and consequently just make the problem worse. And that horrendous Smith Machine (should be banned from every gym) is even worse. I don't know of anyone who has done squats on those for any length of time that didn't report knee pain. The reason is that like all fixed-path machines, it forces your joints into whatever position fits the machine, not the position they need to be in. Think about it. When you do free weight squats with a barbell, your knees can move about and make the minor adjustments needed to be at the proper angle. If you need to go forward a slight bit, you simply move the barbell as needed. This actually happens naturally if you are using proper form. In a fixed path machine, this can't happen. The weight bar is going to move in whatever path is dictated by the machine. Likewise, your knees will be forced into whatever angle the machine dictates. Forcing your knees into angles they don't want to go in is a recipe for pain. This should be obvious. There's simply no way to make a fixed-path machine that fits everyone. People have long legs, short legs, and different upper to lower leg length ratios. Some people's knees twist in, others twist out. So the angle the machine forces you into is not likely to be correct for your body geometry. Read More and More. And it's not just the Smith Machine. This is a problem with almost all fixed-path machines, be it a bench press, overhead press, leg press, you name it. They all dictate what angles your joints are going to move through. And if this is not the right angle for you, it will eventually result in joint pain. In fact, a 2008 study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research reported that free weight users experienced less joint pain than machine users. And to boot the free weight users had a 58% better increase in strength and an almost 200% better improvement in balance.

You can, and should, minimize risk of injury by exercising your brain as well as your muscles and follow some simple rules.

  • Check your ego at the gym door. Don't suddenly add 50 pounds to your bench press just because the gym rat next to you is benching that.
  • Use proper form. Not only is it safer, you generally get better results. The proper form is not just some random choice; There's a reason it's done that way. Know what it is and follow it.
  • Work with a partner.
  • Keep your work area clear of obstacles and tripping hazards.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings (And watch out for that idiot walking down the gym twirling that damn wooden exercise stick).
  • If you experience joint or tendon pain, address it as soon as possible. A minor sore joint addressed early will heal in a week. If you continue to aggravate it, it may take months to heal.

So sure, you're probably going to suffer a few aches and pains from exercising, but compared to the aches and pains and other health problems caused by not exercising, it should be a no brainer as to which is the better (and less painful) choice.

doctorAs with any nutrition or exercise program, always review them with your doctor to ensure that they don't interact with or are contraindicated by any medications or medical issues you may have. If you haven't trained for a while, start out slow and go easy. If you are pregnant, have diabetes, blood sugar problems, or any heart issues, you shouldn't do this program as it is very strenuous.
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