Weight training is a calling for some of us. For others it’s something that we have to do in order to stay healthy. Both groups have to deal with the physical discomfort of pushing their bodies beyond their comfort zones, but why does the former seem to be better at handling the pain? The answer is perspective.
Before we get going on the power of changing perspective, it will be worth our time to briefly explain good and bad pain when weight lifting. Unfortunately we don’t have a more descriptive word for what goes on, but there is a difference between the discomfort of lifting a weight and dealing with an injury.
Muscle soreness while weight lifting is to be expected even though sometimes it really hurts- especially if you are pushing yourself really hard. But this pain is not putting you in danger of long term damage and is, in fact, a big part of what is driving your results. This pain occurs in the belly of the muscle and decipates at the conclusion of a lift. It is a short term discomfort, or tightness in the specific muscle you are training. It is a dull burn that may or may not be sensitive to the touch, but you are still able to move fully.
Bad pain indicates an injury or something that should not be pushed through. This pain is sharp and prevents movement. This pain typically occurs at a joint or at the tendons of muscles. There may be irradiating burning or an electric feeling. When this pain occurs you know it, and you know it isn’t good. It doesn’t go away quickly and needs to be dealt with properly.
If you have a gym membership, are considering personal training, or grew up in an affluent country, you most likely learned that pain is a bad thing. We are taught to avoid it from an early age and our parents worked tirelessly to make sure that we never had to endure pain the way that they did. This bleeds into everything that we do and most of us have never learned to fight for what we want. The problem is that pain and discomfort are part of change.
Take a moment and think about why you are going to the gym. What got you started? What did you want to do? Every single one of us wanted to change. We all wanted to like ourselves, or we wanted other to like us, and we thought that our bodies are what stood in the way. All of us want to feel better, look better, move better, be more active, have more energy, and leave our old selves behind. Doing this requires some discomfort.
The pain of change always occurs in the realm that you are trying to change. Spiritual change requires spiritual discomfort. Financial change requires financial discomfort. Social change requires social discomfort. Physical change requires physical discomfort.
How badly you want something dictates the amount by which you are willing to suffer for it.
When I was twenty I was fat, lazy, and I hated my body. I wanted to change so badly that I gave up all of the things in my life that got me there. Eventually this included friends, my job, the person I was dating, where I was living, food that I loved, playing video games, and so on and so forth. I drastically changed my life because I wanted to change my image of myself from the inside out. I learned to love pushing myself and discovered what I was willing to do to obtain what I wanted. The point is you need to want something bad enough to endure the pain of the change to get it.
That’s great and all, but what about the pain of lifting, Sean?
When it comes to the pain of lifting, you need to embrace it. It will not go away and it never gets easier. You need to accept that it is now part of what you want. Resisting it will only lead you back to an unsatisfactory image staring back at you in the mirror. Know that what you are feeling is the discomfort of change and that while you are changing your body you are also sharpening your resolve. Your eagerness to push yourself in the gym and tolerate the pain will teach you to push yourself in every other aspect of your life too. Change becomes part of who you are and that makes you extraordinary.
It takes time and a healthy dose of results, but eventually you will seek the pain of pushing yourself when you’re lifting. Be patient and start with exercises that push you, but are also fun. Don’t be afraid to back off a little bit until you get the hang of what you are doing. Focus on establishing a habit of exercise first. The worst plan that you stick to is better than the best one that you don’t. Be curious and have fun with each movement. Try to move better each time you’re in the gym. Have more control, feel more in the muscle, know where your body is in space without looking at it in the mirror. Once you know what is safe, play. The gym should be fun, even when it’s painful. Each time you step in you have a chance to test yourself and see how far you can go- and it’s entirely up to you. Focus on the process, embrace the pain, and all of the results will be yours.