The Limitations of “No Pain, No Gain”

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23physed-tmagArticleA New York Times article published on April 23rd, 2014 references a study conducted at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City that investigates the the relationship between neuromuscular activity and perceived as opposed to actual fatigue.  During the study mice were injected with equal amounts of lactate, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and other chemicals.  The scientist found that the neuromuscular response demonstrated in the mice varied depending on how much lactate, ATP, and other chemicals were injected.  Next, the scientist injected the abductor pollis brevis muscle (thumb) of ten humans.  The scientists produced three different dosages of these chemicals to simulate the amounts that would be found in the muscle during moderate exercise, strenuous exercise, and finally muscular exhaustion.  Following the moderate exercise dosage, subjects reported feelings of fatigue, puffiness, and tiredness in their thumbs.  The strenuous dosage was associated with increased fatigue and the onset of slight pains and aches, and the muscular exhaustion dosage was associated with considerable soreness.  The findings as interpreted by NYT reporter, Gretchen Reynolds (2014), suggests that “Each subsequent increase in the levels of lactate and other substances amplifies the sense of fatigue, Dr. Light said, until the substances become so concentrated that they apparently activate a different set of neurons, related to feelings of pain”.  Furthermore the article suggest that working through some levels of fatigue and achiness is associated with improved physical performance, though working through symptoms of pain can cause muscle damage.  Hence the adage “no pain, no gain” is not the wisest strategy to use in improving athletic performance.

I appreciate and agree with Reynolds conclusion that “no pain, no gain” is an antiquated training approach.  She references the original article (which unfortunately was not available in it’s full version on pubmed) and sought out to personally interview a researcher associated with the study, which lends to the article’s credibility.  Though one issue takes away from her credibly; she states that ATP is released during muscular activity, whereas according to sliding filament theory, it is actually hydrolyzed during muscular activity.  In other words, Reynolds suggestion that ATP is released or produced during muscular activity is incorrect, rather ATP is consumed and broken down during muscular activity.

Aside from the details relating to sliding filament theory, I like and appreciate this article.  I believe the attitude “no pain, no gain” has cummulative negative effects on the physical activity levels of communities.  The belief that exercise should be painful not only discourages people from participating in physical activity, it also creates more injuries and prevents people from exercise.  It’s important for people to have healthy and realistic expectations for themselves with regard to athletic performance and understand that experiencing some fatigue and mild to moderate discomfort can improve athletic performance, but acute pain is more frequently associate with damage and injury and will likely impede, if not recede athletic performance and health.

Reynolds, G.  (2014).  The Limit’s of No Pain, No Gain.  The New York Times.  Retieved from: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/23/with-exercise-the-limits-of-no-pain-no-gain/?partner=rss&emc=rss

 

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