7 Ways to Make Your Workouts More Effective and Less Painful

September 15, 2011

By LeeAnn Langdon

Lose the Pain, Keep the Gains

“No Pain, No Gain.” Popularized by Jane Fonda in the 1980s, this saying became the mantra for exercisers for decades to come. It suggests that fitness takes effort and that you’ll get out of it only what you put in. But it also suggests that exercise is painful, unpleasant and punishing, and that’s a PR disaster for an activity that should be a part of everyone’s daily life.

The good news is that the catchy slogan doesn’t have to turn you off from healthy exercise. Unless you’re a competitive athlete, your exercise program should never cause you pain. You can have all the health benefits of exercise with no pain as long as you follow these common-sense tips.

7 Ways to Make Your Workouts More Effective and Less Painful

  1. Get enough rest
  2. You heard right. If you want to get the full benefit of your exercise program, you need to get plenty of rest. Our bodies use sleep to restore and repair after all the stresses we encounter during the day, and exercise is one of those stressors. When you begin a new exercise program, you’ll find that your body craves additional sleep because it’s busy building muscle and adapting to the new work you’ve asked it to do. That need for extra sleep is a good sign that your exercise program is working and your body is growing stronger. As an added benefit, most people find that regular exercise improves the quality of their sleep.

  3. Stay Hydrated
  4. Have you ever seen your houseplants get droopy and wilted from lack of water? The same thing happens to us when we don’t get enough water. Our bodies are 55-60% water by weight, and every cell in the body depends on water to work properly. To stay hydrated during and after your workouts, begin drinking water before you exercise; about a half liter two hours prior to your workout should do it. During your workout drink a quarter liter every 10-20 minutes. And after your workout, if you’ve sweat enough to lose weight, you should drink a half liter per pound of weight lost.

  5. Warm up
  6. A gradual warm up signals your body to get ready for the increased activity levels to come. Rather than rushing right in to your workout at maximum effort, ease into it, so your heart rate increases gradually and the increased circulation brings oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. Choose a warm up that’s appropriate to your workout. So if you’re a jogger or swimmer, try a few laps at a slower pace. If you’re doing a resistance workout, start with a few repetitions at 50-75% of the weight you normally lift.

  7. Cool down and stretch
  8. A gradual cool down at the end of your workout is just as important as your warm up. Stopping abruptly at the end of your workout can lead to blood pooling in your feet and legs and irregular heartbeats. So keep moving at a slower pace until your heart rate comes back to normal, and don’t forget to stretch while your muscles are still warm and pliable. Stretching helps you maintain your full range of motion and gives your circulatory system time to remove the waste products that accumulate in your cells during exercise.

  9. Work in your target heart rate zone
  10. Current recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine call for us to get moderate exercise at 50-75% of maximum heart rate for 30-60 minutes 5 days per week. Everyone’s maximum heart rate is different, and it changes as you age, so how can you tell if you’re working hard enough, but not too hard? The “Talk Test” is the most reliable way to know that you’re working in your target heart rate zone. You should be breathing deeply, but not gasping for air. You should still be able to talk in full sentences, but it shouldn’t be easy. If you can’t complete a sentence without taking a big breath, you’re working at a higher intensity than you need. That’s fine for short intervals, but you won’t be able to sustain that level of intensity for long.

  11. Keep progressing, but not too fast
  12. If you do the same workout at the same intensity every time, your body will adjust and stop adapting. To continue to improve your fitness, keep challenging yourself, but don’t overdo it. If you’re running two or three miles three times per week, don’t expect to run a 10K next week. And if you’re using 5-pound weights for an exercise, don’t expect to jump to 10-pound weights. A 5-10% increase when your workout gets easy will keep you challenged without overdoing it.

  13. Mix it up
  14. Prevent boredom and add challenge to your workout by cross training. If you normally walk or run for your aerobic workout, try swimming or cycling. You’ll still get great aerobic benefits, but you’ll be using different muscles, challenging your body in new ways, and staving off boredom.  And don’t be afraid to include non-traditional activities in your exercise plan. It doesn’t always have to be about running, cycling and swimming. Dancing, hiking, fencing, gardening, roller skating—anything that gets your heart pumping is good for you, and the more fun you have doing it, the more likely you are to stick with it.

There are no fitness quick fixes, so trying to go from couch potato to triathlete in a few weeks is a recipe for injury and discouragement. Your body can still adapt and you can improve your fitness levels at any age and whatever your starting point. The secret is to start slowly, keep at it diligently, and increase your efforts gradually. A sensible approach coupled with a few key safety tips will make your exercise routine a habit you look forward to every day.

About the Author: LeeAnn Langdon became a certified personal trainer in her mid 40s and owns Prime of Life Fitness located in Colorado. LeeAnn’s specialty is working with mature adults—Baby Boomers and Seniors—to help them develop the fitness habits that will let them age gracefully, vibrantly and joyfully. For more fitness tips and routines visit the Prime of Life Fitness website.

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