Gently Does it: Olympian Challenges “No Pain No Gain” Mantra

When you think about exercising, you may have certain concerns about your wellbeing. Sure, exercise is good for your wellness, but what about the pain involved, or the risk of potential injuries? You’ve heard the phrase “no pain, no gain” but does fitness really have to hurt? Not according to Julie Isphording, former Olympian for the US, who notes that there are still gains to be made without workout pain.


Isphording comments, ‘For a long time I thought that being in pain was part of the plan, a sign of progress. I was so used to hobbling around on achy feet, with leg muscles so sore that I couldn’t walk up and down stairs without holding on to the banister for dear life. Pain was a persistent part of my life. Getting out of the car took at least five minutes. I couldn’t keep up with my 62-year-old mother on a little walk. I would push myself through races and run at least 100 miles a week training for the Olympics and the New York City marathon… even the Thanksgiving Day 10K. I ran well. I ran fast. But THE PAIN was always there. I learned to live with it. But I have finally learned after 23 years of running that you just can’t conquer pain. You only delay the inevitable. Once the pain takes over – once you wave the white flag – all your courage, determinations, talent and tenacity will not carry you one more step.’


So what was Isphording’s solution? Calm and gentle workouts. ‘A dynamic group of alternative fitness workouts like yoga, Pilates, and Tai chi-are now in health clubs, gyms and on home videos,’ Isphording points out. ‘Their approach to fitness emphasizes flexibility, balance and breathing. The idea is to “think” through your moves – slowly, effectively and gracefully – not just to get a better butt, but to integrate a balanced approach to fitness that helps you to relieve stress and bring more calmness to your life. That’s great – I am all for less stress. But where is the “workout” part? I’m a runner – I’m used to intensity. Can you get an effective, enhancing body workout too? Absolutely.’ Let’s take a closer look at the gains you expect to make from an intense workout, and see whether or not gentle workouts can provide the same benefits.


1. Endurance: Isphording enthuses that gentle workouts can still provide the endurance you’re looking for. ‘The movements involve lots of reps and holding one position for a long time,’ says Isphording. ‘This prolonged practice will train your muscles to keep working for an extended period of time.’
2. Strength: While gentle workouts tick the “yes” box for endurance, when it comes to strength you have more of a “maybe” on your hands. Isphording explains, ‘If the resistance is progressive – either with bands, weights, or body-weight resistance – than yes, you will build strength. However, most of these type routines do not involve weights that challenge your muscles to the point where they are strengthened.’


3. Flexibility: ‘Consistent stretching of various muscles will improve your flexibility,’ Isphording asserts. ‘Most of these type workouts involve very focused stretching routines with lots of breathing exercises to enhance the movements. However, the key to flexibility is consistency. Muscles need to be properly warmed up and stretched regularly to maintain and enhance a joint’s range of motion.’


4. Weight loss: The weight loss benefits of gentle workouts are questionable. Isphording argues, ‘Most of these workouts do not provide enough exertion to get your heart rate up and therefore burn a lot of calories. So they are not the best fat burners out there. However, with any focused movement you are burning calories.’

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