In the spirit of April Fools, let’s play a game. Which one of these sentences is true?
- You must train hard every time you work out and feel sore after or you won’t benefit.
- Pain or an injury will go away if you stretch or foam roll enough.
- You must avoid moving into the position where you got injured.
You might be surprised to find that all of these are false. Let’s break down these commonly held exercise myths.
Myth #1: You must train hard every time you work out and feel sore after or you won’t benefit.
This one is right up there with “No pain, no gain” and it’s a myth that’s leaving many athletes chronically injured or burned out. Yes, a slight physical stress is what makes training beneficial, however, too much physical stress or that same good stress without adequate recovery can potentially result in a variety of structural, physiological and emotional problems as the body tries to adapt.
A key factor in figuring out how hard you can go on a particular day is to first assess the other stressors in your life. A fight with a spouse, lack of sleep, food allergies or not drinking enough water can stress your body in the same way a hard workout does.
The difference is that during exercise there’s a rush of feel-good chemicals surging through your body and numbing the pain versus the others stressors, whose effects may feel more apparent.
Don’t be afraid to take easy days, to play with your kids or to explore new movements. The body craves variety and play at any age. You can’t beat your body into a fitness goal. Focus, instead, on balancing stress and recovery.
Myth #2: Pain or injury will go away if you stretch or foam roll enough
I’d love it if this was true, but unfortunately it’s not how to body works. The pain or tightness you experience is merely a symptom of a larger issue. We can spend a lifetime chasing these symptoms around, but we won’t truly heal until we figure out the root cause of the problem. Don’t let pain psych you out. For instance, you might have IT band pain, so you massage it with a foam roller every day and it seems okay. The problem is that this approach is masking the symptom. Essentially, it’s like turning down the volume on the problem. It’s still there, but your nervous system can tune it out.
This seems like an okay approach until either something else begins to hurt instead or that IT band pain returns with a vengeance. The recent blog post, Why Releasing What’s Tight Could Be Keeping You in Pain explains this further.
Myth #3: You must avoid moving into the position where you got injured
The job of your brain is to keep you out of harm. Let’s say you sprained your ankle playing soccer when you were 8. Every time your foot begins to move into the position it got injured in, your brain steps in to remind you of the potential danger.
Even though this injury occurred years ago and has long since healed, the body is still playing this trauma at a low level 24/7, intent on keeping you from getting injured again. Plus, the body will subtly shift to and adapt to the limited range of motion in the ankle, which can create pain and limited movement in other parts of the body.
Despite what your brain says, it’s important to move that ankle into the range of motion where injury occurred. Without that movement, your body doesn’t have a strategy for handling another sudden ankle twist. You have a blank spot in your movement map. Your job is to safely teach the body a healthy, new movement strategy. That means small, deliberate, safe movements first before adding complexity and building strength later.
The same goes for back injuries. Despite your history, you should be able to safely learn how to do fundamental movements like squatting and hip hinging. Your primitive brain will tell you lies like “you’ll throw your back out” or “do this and you’ll get injured again,” but you must slowly and safely learn to move into your body’s vulnerable places, to open up that range of motion again and to move daily in ways that keep it open over time. This is what full recovery following an injury looks like.