The "no pain, no gain" attitude is an old-school approach to getting in shape. But that doesn't mean working up a sweat should be easy. Sometimes you have to move outside of your comfort zone to see results. Here are some examples of where a little bit of discomfort goes a long way toward making you faster, stronger and fitter.
Sucking up the cold
A long hot shower after a tough workout may feel great initially, but you'll end up paying for that steamy indulgence with a bad case of post-exercise aches and pains. Exercise-weary muscles need cold, not heat, to reduce the inflammation that follows a hard workout.
One of the best forms of cold therapy is sitting in a bathtub filled with cool water and a couple bags of ice. Admittedly, this isn't the kind of bath where you light candles and sip a glass of wine. But if you can endure even five minutes of this cold-water torture, you're bound to feel right as rain the next day.
If even the thought of an ice bath is too much for you, try a contrast shower. Revel in hot water for a few minutes, then switch to cold for one minute. Switch back and forth on 60-second intervals three to five times.
Sticking with it
Ever have one of those workouts where nothing goes right or feels right? You know what I'm talking about - those days when it feels like you've got a piano on your back from the beginning to the end of your workout.
The first inclination is to give in to the lethargy and dial it back. Don't do it. The true measure of a dedicated exerciser is being committed even when the going gets tough. Sticking with it guarantees you're going to be prouder of your efforts than if you were having one of those "bring it on" kind of days.
Mental and physical fortitude is the mark of a champion, which is what you'll feel like if you triumph over the bad-day blues.
Overcoming sticker shock
We've all felt the ouch of sticker shock the first time we looked at the price of today's sportspecific clothing and gear. But once you get over the initial discomfort of shelling out the equivalent of a week's pay (or more) for a new bike, or the cost of a monthly bus pass on a T-shirt that breathes and wicks, you'll revel in the comfort and performance benefits of having the right stuff to support your exercise habit.
Besides, a good-quality pair of running shoes, the right socks and a coat that keeps you warm and dry actually reduce the risk of injury and exercise-related discomfort. If that's not reason enough to pull out the credit card, consider your investment in exercise gear a reward for working out while the majority of Canadians are glued to the TV or getting an extra hour of sleep.
Running with the big boys (or girls)
A few years back, I agreed to run with a woman who was new to the neighbourhood. I looked her up and down and figured I was in for a nice easy run at a conversational pace. Wrong. Turned out she was a pretty decent track athlete in college. She ended up being the one running at a conversational pace, while the occasional grunt was the only sound I could muster in between gasps for air.
But I stuck with it, and within a few months was not only keeping up my end of the conversation, but was running faster with a lot less effort.
Sometimes you have to be forced to turn it up a notch, and there's no better way to do that than by exposing yourself to a little competition. If you can't find an exercise partner to challenge your pace, consider joining a club (swimming, cycling, running, triathlon) where there's a built-in coach and a team of individuals all ready to push you to your limit.
Paying attention to an injury
At its most basic, an injury is your body's way of telling you something's wrong. At its most sophisticated, it lets you know your boundaries and warns you that you have gone too far.
If you're smart, you'll heed your body's warning signal and make the appropriate changes to your training habits and lifestyle. If the pain continues, seek professional help before the problem becomes chronic. Some people need the discomfort and inconvenience of an injury to force a healthy change in their workout routine.
Trying something different
Your body quickly adapts to routine, which means if you want to continue to improve fitness and performance, you have to vary your workouts. Change up your speed, length or type of workout every four to six weeks, even if it means you feel the effects in muscles you haven't worked before. That discomfort is part and parcel of getting better and creating the kind of balance necessary to ensure your workout hits all parts of your body.