The expression “no pain, no gain” has been discredited by exercise physiologists, cardiologists, and other fitness experts. One should NOT work or exercise vigorously to the point of painful muscle fatigue and complete exhaustion.
The “no pain no gain” catch phrase contains an element of truth. Clearly, some pain is involved with healthy muscular training and development. Many unhealthy sedentary declining individuals (with beer, pizza and remote control in hand) use pain as a mental excuse to avoid even moderate levels of regular exercise. To such individuals, “no pain no gain” applies - up to the potential of their poor state of physical conditioning. However, taken to the extreme, “no pain no gain” omits essential issues of premature aging and catastrophic death potential.
In 1978, Jim Fixx popularized the “no pain no gain” concept in his best-seller The Complete Book of Running (it contains many good points and used books still sell today). In 1984, when he was 52 years old, Jim apparently ignored his body's important chest pain signals, and died of a heart attack during the last 50-yard sprint of his familiar daily run. He was a lean, healthy, well-conditioned man with a strong heart, but something was different – three arteries had become blocked and he strongly believed in and promoted “no pain no gain”, without thoughtful concern for the warning signs of when to stop.
It is sad what a firm grasp of a partial truth and a catchy buzz phrase can do to the egocentric human decision making process.
Healthy aerobic exercise takes place when sufficient oxygen is supplied to the muscles to completely “burn” the energy stored in blood sugars (primarily glucose). Aerobic exercise is beneficial, IF it is limited to the amount that the person is fit enough to handle at the time.
When a person exercises so intensely that their lungs and cardio vascular system cannot supply sufficient oxygen to their muscles, they cross over the unhealthy “anaerobic threshold” from moderate to excessive activity. This causes lactic acid to build up in the muscles in a so-called “oxygen debt” that must soon be repaid. Anaerobic exercise rapidly results in painful muscle fatigue and exhaustion. It is often destructive, accelerates aging, does little to improve muscle strength or cardio vascular conditioning, and in some cases has led to sudden death, if taken to the extreme.
One sign that you have crossed the anaerobic threshold is that you can no longer talk while you exercise, since your lungs are gasping for air. Another sign is that your heart rate goes above the maximum productive pace for your age and fitness level (this requires a portable heart rate feedback monitor).
Warning signs that you should immediately suspend heavy work or exercise: chest pain, progression of heart disease, dehydration, recurring illness, an abnormal increase in muscle fatigue or exhaustion, high blood pressure, orthopedic problems (foot / joint pain), possible muscle / ligament / tendon sprain, possible bone fracture, swelling, equipment problems (shoe lining, etc.), sunburn, alcohol-or-drug-related poor judgment, balance or motor control, hangover, lack of sleep, dizziness, vertigo, light headedness, inability to concentrate, extreme hunger (low serum glucose level), sudden weight gain, and environmental factors like weather (excessive heat, humidity, cold, rain or wind chill factor), air pollution (industrial, automotive, smog), high pollen or mold spores (allergies), or the use of certain prescription drugs (ask your a physician or pharmacist about new medications and your exercise program – carefully read the contraindications and warning signs of dangerous side effects).
Do NOT make a macho commitment to excessive exercise (like a competitive marathon) without gradually building up and demonstrating your endurance training. Do NOT ignore unusual new pain, especially during all-out anaerobic sprints and endurance events. Immediate stop and relax when any of the above warning signs suddenly or incremental appear.
Excitement, adrenaline, and internally produced opioid endorphins / enkephalins can powerfully mask the intensity of pain. Some coaches say “walk it off,” but that approach can sometimes be very dangerous. It is possible to fracture the smaller bone in the lower leg (fibula) inside the boot while snow skiing, ski down the mountain on it (thinking it is merely a sprain), and then lose the foot due to the jagged fracture slicing the blood veins while you were skiing on it after the fracture occurred.
Pay attention to what your pain is trying to tell you !