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No pain, no gain? 5 fitness clichés get a reality check

Anyone who works out knows clichés come with the territory. You’re often told to “feel the burn” and realize “no pain, no gain” — but just because a phrase is common doesn’t mean it’s true. We asked local personal trainers and fitness experts — Kathleen Trotter, Stephanie Joanne and Sarah Robichaud – to weigh in on five fitness clichés to separate fact from fiction.

“No pain, no gain.”

Totally false.

Fitness experts say pain is a sign something is going wrong – maybe it’s your form, or you’re pushing yourself too hard. Whatever the case, it’s not a good thing. “The idea of negative, harmful pain being positive is never true,” says Trotter. You don’t have to be sore the next day either to get results, adds Joanne. “It’s almost the opposite of what I would want anyone to do,” she says. It’s all about knowing the line between pushing your body to its limits and feeling that muscle sensation, versus real pain that comes from hurting yourself during a workout.

“Feel the burn.”

Sometimes true.

There’s pain (bad) and then there’s that burning sensation that often accompanies a workout (not necessarily bad.) It’s fine to push yourself to the point of fatigue during exercise, says Robichaud. “I know I’m fatigued when I feel that burning sensation in my body – the lactic acid build up – but never to the point of pain or sacrificing your form,” she adds. Feeling the “burn” isn’t necessary to see results, notes Joanne, but it can provide a psychological boost.

“You are what you eat.”

Mostly true.

If you’re opting for cake instead of broccoli, you’ll definitely feel different after. But experts say the truth is more nuanced that this cliché. “If you’re eating foods that are heavy and fat-laden, and sugar-laden, you are going to feel heavy and you will develop fat on your body,” says Robichaud. And, if you’re spending time in the gym but not eating well, you won’t get results, adds Joanne. However, if your digestive system is out of whack, that might mean you’re not getting nutrients properly – regardless of what you eat – says Trotter.

“It never gets easier — you just get stronger.”

Sometimes true.

This cliché depends on the situation, says Trotter. A beginner runner, for instance, might run 5k in 40 minutes. “In a year, hopefully you can run it in 30 minutes, and that’s going to feel like what you’ve done in 40,” she says. “It’s easier – because you’re more fit.” When you’re pumping iron, things get easier as you strengthen your muscles. “As you tear up muscle fibres in your workout, and then you recover, they come back together even stronger,” says Robichaud. The stronger you get, the harder you can work – so in that sense, it’s never getting any easier.

“The only bad workout is no workout.”

Totally true.

All three experts the Star spoke with agreed with this cliché. “Any movement, even if you just go for a walk and get yourself out of that sedentary mindset, is better than nothing,” says Joanne. In the fitness world, there’s a constant pursuit of perfection, but Trotter says people need to shake that – it’s not about the “perfect” workout, since something is better than nothing. “You’ll never regret being active,” says Robichaud.


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