Fitness Articles

Exercise Does Not Have to be Painful

Yoga, Pilates & Tai Chi


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 5 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.

When you drive yourself too hard, you actually drive yourself into hell. You have to pause and give yourself enough time to rest and rejuvenate, replenish and relax.

Now you can and should find some time for calmer, gentler workouts. A dynamic group of alternative fitness workouts like yoga, Pilates, and Tai chi-are now in health clubs, gyms and on home videos. 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. Here are some answers for you:

Endurance: YES
The movements involve lots of reps and holding one position for a long time. This prolonged practice will train your muscles to keep working for an extended period of time. That’s good news, but remember, those same movements will give you the same results. Consequently, it is essential that you try to vary the routine every 4-6 weeks and work on other muscles. This way you "jumpstart" or awaken other muscles and build even better results. Change is good both physically and mentally.

Strength: MAYBE
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.

Flexibility: YES
Consistent stretching of various muscles will improve your flexibility. 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.

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.

If your level of exertion is maximized, than your heart rate is up to the point where you’re building cardiovascular strength. However, let’s be honest: for the most part these type exercises do not – and in many cases should not – stress your heart to that point.

Reduce stress: ABSOLUTELY
Learning how to breathe correctly, meditating and focusing on your inner-self are all great ways to finding peace with yourself and your world.

I believe that most mind-body routines are great ways to improve overall fitness and to help you in many other areas of your life. You will notice all kinds of results. But always ask yourself the two most important questions of all: 1) Is it what you want? And most importantly: 2) Are you having fun?

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Member Comments

  • Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth
    or burn down your house, you can never tell.
    - Joan Crawford
  • Great information
  • I love how exercise gives me so much energy and makes me feel so great.
  • I am waiting for hip replacements so am no stranger to PAIN. For the last 18 months pain has been constant to the point where walking has become quite difficult. So to get around that, I found exercises that don't involve the hips much but still provides my needed workout.

    I exercise 6 days a week for at least 60 minutes per day. Monday, Wednesday, Friday its in the pool for a minimum of 1000m (I can't swim fast - bad hips remember?) Tues, Thurs, Sat are gym days (my basement gym that is). I found I can use my Aerodyne bike (not my recumbent - way too painful) and maintain a 7-9 speed for 30+ minutes. Then it is on to my Bowflex for 9 upper body exercises and one set of leg extensions. All this, is to do as much as I can with limiting the pain.

    So there is a way. You just need to find something that works for you.
  • 97MONTY
  • Exercise isn't painful all the time. I guess that's what it has going for itself.
  • I've had to adjust a lot of things due to pain. One thing with arthritis, the pain moves around to different joints. Or maybe it's the MS doing that.
  • Wish that it was so because I have arthritis in my ankle and that hurts all the time.
  • I like yoga and Pilates!
  • I love pilates also
    What a great article! I'm 69 and have a bad knee heading for replacement eventually of both. (I had to go back to work in my later years and ended up with a job that did havoc on my knees. At the same time I did a lot of cardio and exercise trying to lose excess weight). Conclusion: I did not succeed until I retired and learned to eat less and do only moderate exercise and cardio to keep my body healthy and strong in order to perform daily duties and more. I do the 28 day home w/o and 30 day jump start your workout challenges over and over with my personal modifications. I keep my calorie intake around 1400 calories, cut the sugar and I'm maintaining a comfortable weight for over a year now.
  • Even though these are not cardio or weight endurance exercises, they still need to be done at least once or twice a week. This does help with flexibility, stretching out sore muscles and provides with a sense of peace of mind.

    God bless,

  • I'm finding that breaking up my routine and adding new features is helping. Keeps the pain in check (or not at all) and keeps exercising fresh. When I have the bunion surgery (UGH) may be off my feet for 6 weeks so already checking out chair cardio and yoga.

About The Author

Julie Isphording Julie Isphording
Julie, a former Olympic marathon runner, is an author, radio host and fitness expert.