The 'workout mentality' pervades throughout every gym across America. But what if the 'no-pain no gain', 'push harder' mentality was actually setting you up for more harm than good? As a veteran of the health and fitness industry, I've seen way too many people suffer from this approach to their training, racing and fitness routines. In this two-part series, I'm uncovering the downsides of the workout mentality. If you haven't read part 1, you can read it here.
Now let's cover the final three pitfalls of the workout mentality.
Pitfall #4: Workouts Can Fuel Chronic Pain
Almost always when you’re operating with the workout mentality, you’re ignoring the messages that your body is giving you. You’ll tend to push through the pain because that’s what you've been told to do. If you’re an athlete, your coaches have probably taught you that you need to hurt (at least a little) in order to achieve results, or that you have to push through a workout. I see it happen all the time in the gym. Personal trainers cheering on their clients as they scream, “Push harder! Come on, you can squeeze out one more rep!”
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t push yourself-- but rather that you can learn how to be comfortable while pushing through your comfort zones without injuring your body.
If you frequently ignore that little tweak in your knee, that pain in the bottom of your foot, or that tightness in your neck, over time, these seemingly small injuries will turn into chronic pain and become long-term, chronic pain and injury.
Pitfall #5: Workouts Beget Expectations
Expectations are another by-product of the workout mentality. For example, you might expect that you should be able to run hill repeats in a certain amount of time because you've spent the past three months diligently doing strength training and speed workouts. Then what happens? You go out to do your hill repeats, and you feel a little slow and a little sluggish. You judge yourself, thinking, “I shouldn’t be feeling like this way, I got eight hours of sleep. I’m not sick. I’ve been doing all these killer workouts, so I should be stronger and more fit. I’m just not into this. What’s up with me?”. Sound familiar?
Or, you might have an expectation that you should experience or feel something other than what you're experiencing in the present moment. These expectations lead to a sense of disappointment.
Expectations can kill any sense of joy or happiness that runners might otherwise experience, simply by being in the present moment and accepting the current reality. Instead of being thankful for having two legs that can carry them over the surface of the earth, they get upset that they didn’t run as fast as they thought they should. Instead of being grateful for the ability to move their bodies freely without constriction, they become frustrated when they feel tired. It’s sad, and it doesn’t need to be that way.
Pitfall #6: Workouts Reduce the Body's Ability to Recover
Workouts reduce the body’s ability to recover from stress. When your body is chronically stressed and you’re triggering the sympathetic nervous system, you’re constantly in fight or flight and constantly pumping out stress hormones. Your adrenals become fatigued, and the accompanying physiological responses impair your immune system as well as your body’s ability to oxygenate your blood. Your muscles constrict, decreasing the blood flow and circulation that you need for recovery from a hard session of training. The workout mentality causes a chronically tense state, and when you’re in that physical, mental, emotional state, your body just isn’t able to recover.
As a recap, the workout mentality causes physical, mental, and emotional stress, fueling chronic pain as we push ourselves instead of listening to our bodies. Workouts lead us to miss the gift of the journey, and create expectations that cause disappointment. And finally, workouts reduce the body’s ability to recover, and keep you forever running on the stress treadmill.