ASK A TRAINER: How True is the Expression 'No Pain, No Gain?'
"I just joined a gym. I've never been a fitness person so I hired a trainer to show me a few things. I definitely want to be pushed but sometimes I feel like he's pushing me too hard. Am I just being a wimp? I almost called out of work the other day because I was so sore. When I told my trainer, he kind of laughed and said, "'no pain no gain.' How true is it when they say, 'no pain no gain?'" - Dennis C., Charlotte, NC
Thanks for the question, Dennis. First, congratulations on joining the gym and taking the initiative of hiring a trainer. I hope your trainer didn't try and claim that maxim as something he came up with as they have been saying, "No pain. No gain," since the inception of exercise. They talk a lot. Of course, a lot of clichés become cliché because they happen to be true.
Exercise releases endorphins, relieves stress, increases energy levels, aids sleep, enhances the ability to enjoy recreational activities. A solid workout can leave you feeling great all day long... after it's over. It's not supposed to feel like a warm bath or a soothing foot rub or like getting your hair washed at the hair salon (how good does that feel? Seriously.) Exercise works because you place your body under stress and it strengthens itself to prepare for the duress of your next workout(s). While you're doing it, it should feel uncomfortable. It's supposed to kind of suck. But it shouldn't be unbearable and it shouldn't feel painful.
I have a theory that the phrase, "No pain. No gain," exists because the phrase, "No discomfort. No gain," doesn't rhyme. I suspect the level intensity of your workouts might be inappropriate for someone just beginning to work out based on the degree of soreness you are describing. Post workout soreness is to be expected especially for someone new to exercise but it shouldn't be debilitating. A fitness program should be progressively more challenging. If you're starting at full speed right out of the gate, you aren't giving your body a chance to acclimate to your healthy, new lifestyle. If the reward for showing up and working hard to better yourself is losing one of your sick days at work, you are less likely to become an exerciser for life.
For a gym newbie, your early workouts should be dedicated to learning perfect form, correcting muscular imbalances, building core strength and elevating your heart rate. That's more than enough to handle for your first two to three months. You'll feel uncomfortable while you are working out but you won't feel like you're about to die during your sessions, you won't feel like you wish you were dead in the days after your workouts and you'll notice a difference in your body within a month. As your body adapts, you can increase the intensity of your workouts incrementally over time.
A trainer/client relationship needs to be one built on trust and if you feel like you are hesitant to entrust this person with your body, there are so many other, excellent trainers out there. If you feel this situation is salvageable and want to continue working with this particular trainer, you should voice your concerns and see if he's willing to adapt your program to meet your actual fitness needs. If you don't think it's a going to work out, you should speak to management at your gym about placing you with a different trainer. If you don't want to throw this guy under the bus, you can simply say that you aren't a good fit.
If you want to hire someone to make you feel badly about yourself, hire a dominatrix. You're not a wimp, Dennis. You're brave to tackle the gym, which can be a scary place for the uninitiated.