Monday, May 24, 2010

Stop it! It hurts! Role of pain and suffering in my workouts.

(can never get enough old Far Side's)

I was in yet another deathly painful spinning class this past Sunday morning, and I started to have an existential crisis.  What is with the whole exercise = pain thing?  I am a person who seeks misery?

I was back in the gym this morning, doing my best to put in a good workout on the weights.  While I was going through my routine, I kept hearing loud grunts and whelps from a largely built young dude who was lifting giant quantities of iron.  He is a trainer (and according to his civilian T-shirt, a bodybuilder), who clearly works out a lot harder than I do.  I started wondering if I lifted hard enough as I rarely make grunting or any other variety of animalistic noises.  I started wondering if I should I be upping the workout ante?

This led me to the broader question about exercise:  is it supposed to be a little painful?  Is it really a workout if you aren't a little miserable while you're doing it?

Technically, the easiest way to think about this is by considering the difference between moderate and vigorous intensity exercise.  From an aerobic exercise perspective, the difference is in the heart rate:

  • Moderate intensity:  50% to 70% of maximum heart rate (depends on your age) or 89 bpm to 124 bpm for a 43 year old person (which might be kind of my age)
  • Vigorous intensity:  70% to 85% of maximum heart rate or 124 bpm to 150 bpm for the same 43 year old person
 Some specific examples of the different types:
  • Moderate intensity activities (again, courtesy of CDC):  walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking), water aerobics, bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour, tennis (doubles), ballroom dancing, general gardening.  [I will resist the temptation to tease them on their choices.]  
  • Vigorous intensity activities:  race walking, jogging, or running, swimming laps, tennis (singles), aerobic dancing, bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster, jumping rope, heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing), hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack (no, jet-packs don't count)
The physical fitness guidelines (via 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which Weight Watchers supports) are:
  • 2 1/2 hours of moderate intensity activity per week plus two or more days of muscle strengthening activity OR
  • 75 minutes (1 and 1/4 hrs) of vigorous intensity activity per week plus two or more days of muscle strengthening
The same HHS guidelines suggest that doubling this provides event better health benefits.  Yes, they would really like you to get in 300 minutes of moderate activity or 150 minutes of vigorous activity per week.  

Suffice to say, it's not a target you hit by falling out of bed (unless you are a really restless sleeper).  What about me?  I am currently hitting the following:
  • Lifting 4X per week (50 minutes per session):  I'm good here.  
  • Aerobic:  1 spin class (50 min @ vigorous), 2X45 minutes on stationary bike (fairly vigorous, but maybe could be made more challenging) and 2-3X 30 minutes (on lifting days).  That's about 200 minutes at moderate-to-vigorous intensity.  
Therefore, according to Uncle Sam, I'm hitting the guidelines for "Even Greater Health Benefits".  Go me!  So what's the problem?  

Technically, I have no problem per the above guidelines.  Yet I am wanting more and am feeling obligated to want more.  The reasons for this are twofold:  first, I am hopelessly competitive and the idea of people working harder than me in the gym makes me slightly crazy.  Second, I have come to learn that pushing myself in my workouts allows me to gradually move up to new levels of exercise performance.  This in turn feeds my competitiveness.  It's either a virtuous circle or a doom loop depending on your perspective.  

So for health reasons, there is no real reason for me to push it any more, yet I do for competitive reasons. Is this smart?  I think it works for me because it keeps me engaged and keeps me from getting bored.  Having a new goal is a helpful way for me to stay interested.  Being able to lift a little more weight is rewarding and is a yardstick to measure progress.  Upping my intensity on aerobic workouts has a similar effect.  Also, I've never felt anything but great after a horrifically tough workout.  

This logic doesn't seem that different from someone who runs a lot and is constantly trying to improve their distances and times.  I don't love running, so I seek the equivalent process in the gym.  

In summary, I guess this inner monologue that I've just shared would suggest that I should keep pushing myself a little harder.  If you hear me grunting like an elk in Spring, just ignore me.  I will also do my noble best to not become an irritating no-pain-no-gain person. 

What's the role of pain and suffering in your workouts?  




  1. Does anyone else ever wonder if the other poor people in Dave's spin class consider a vote to kick him out, for saying mean things about Emma, forcing them to endure the punishment as well?? LOL.

  2. Uh oh. Looks like my spinning teacher found my blog... Could make for an ugly Friday morning.

  3. Am reading this while my heart is still racing from my Monday spin class. I wouldn't give up that class or it's benefits for the world! As a fellow "class competitior", I appreciate your willingness to concede that taking classes ups the ante on how hard we push ourselves to keep up with the Jones' and the Tom's and the Emma's.

    Healthy doesn't just happen! Neither does a quality exercise program :D

  4. Go absolutely as far or as fast or as long as you possibly can. Then, go a little more.

  5. Well, I am not blessed/cursed with a competitive nature when it comes to exercise...for me, believe it or not, I hit the "added health benefits" level every week during warm weather simply by doing gardening projects! We have acres and acres of previously very neglected land, and I find it amazingly therapeutic mentally AND physically to beat said land into submission. A weekend's work of work is usually about 30 Activity Points for me, and about 3x during the weekdays I get in another 1-3 hours of either moderate or vigorous activity at a time.
    During the cooler months though, to be honest, I haven't quite figured out what I will do to maintain my activity level. I really hate the gym, but I may have no choice.
    Whatever I end up doing, I am certainly not one of those people who is ever going to enjoy exercise for exercise's sake...I am 100% the kind of person who enjoys activities, with any health benefit being a far second to the overall enjoyment of the activity.
    Guess I'm going to have to buy new skis?

  6. Attended a class called total conditioning this morning. Total body workout with some cardio, weights. Interval training for a full hour. It kicks my butt every time. I don't want to be there while I'm doing it but I sure feel great when I'm finished. I would never work that hard on my own. I love all of the other people in there all "suffering" with me. If I didn't have them it would be easier to hit the snooze button.

  7. When it comes to spinning, the harder I go and the more it hurts, the more enjoyable my *actual* bike rides feel. The hills don't slow me down as much and I can go for longer. I like riding through the country and spinning, running in the winter and doing a little yoga scattered about make that easier. And then--bonus!--I get a better workout on those rides!

  8. I did a Zumba class last night and left sweaty and exhausted -- but part of me feels like it doesn't count because it was too fun and I was never panting or grunting. Like it or not I want the pain so I can feel better about the gain (or actually, loss!)

  9. ewe, it plays no role except to piss me off that my body won't just function well sedentary. I hate working out - I hate every second of it. But I like what it does for my body so that has to be the goal for me.

  10. Love Zumba as well, and believe me it counts!

    And to Dave -- no, it WASN'T Emma that posted that (didn't want you to worry about Friday!)

    however, reading your entry, I could totally see the others in that class, checking your blog, and thinking 'uh, he talked about her again, nope, I'm skipping today!' Then again, maybe they like the extra push as well!

  11. I love spinning. It think it is a wonderful exercise that goes very fast. I do not think working out should "hurt", really. You should feel better after you do it. Unfortunately, sometimes there is some soreness that goes with it.

  12. To be clear about language, when I say "hurt" I don't mean it in a medical way. Really, I'm referencing it more in a whiney, huffing & puffing way.

  13. I told my trainer that the muscles in my armpit hurt when I was putting on my deodorant...she asked me if it was a good hurt? Really? Is there such a hurt! I went back the next day for some more one on one exercise...I wonder what will hurt tomorrow!

  14. I am doing a hybrid workout of P90X and Insanity while following Weight Watchers. Some days I love to workout and some days I hate it with every fiber of being and then some. I quit the gym. Well I stopped going so I guess I quit before I quit but I just wasn't going and working out at home I don't worry how I look or how I compare to others. I do wonder if this sort of at home working out is just as good as the gym though.

  15. I tried a spin class once - about halfway through the instructor came over looking very concerned and I realized that she was observing my face when I am exerting myself - I had to tell her that I'm not dying, I just look like I am :) Group exercise isn't for me until I get a bit stronger - I do my tough workouts by walking/running on my own. I thinking working out on one's own serves a great purpose since goal are very individual. And to answer the original question about pain and working out, I think a little is healthy. I try to push myself about 20% past where I'm "comfortable."

  16. Honestly, I've given birth to two children without the benefit of drugs and would prefer to do so again rather than do endless squats and lunges in a class. If I can't sit down in a chair without wincing for two days, I don't consider that a "good" hurt. I'll have to get my activity in another way.

  17. Dave, you don't give yourself enough credit! You work super hard in spin!We won't vote you out!I need you there to torture!(in a good pain way)it's fun!

  18. should come upstairs and get on the reformer if you find yourself in need of more suffering.

  19. pps.thanks for backing me up Anonymous!

  20. YES!!!! EMMA!! LOVE IT! I think someone needs to share the good stories of Dave in Spin class! Show of hands -- whose with me!! ;o)