5 Ways to Train with Pain


We’ve all heard “No pain, no gain.” But the runner who plans to stay active throughout his or her lifetime should change the phrase to “No BRAIN, no gain.”

At some point in your training, pain will be inevitable. However, it doesn’t have to sideline you – if you’re willing to think your way around it.

To keep up the exercise pace even when you’re feeling achy or sore, consider these five tips for training with pain:

  1. Train around the body part that hurts. For virtually every exercise, there is either an adaptation or alternative version to avoid aggravating a certain body part. For instance, if your shoulder hurts when doing overhead military presses with a barbell, try switching to dumbbells – and either lift lighter weights or do one arm at a time.
  2. Get in the water. Many exercises that feel painful on land are more manageable in water. Say you experience joint pain but enjoy running. Run in a pool and let the water’s buoyancy support you. What’s more, you’ll not only enjoy the same cardiovascular benefits from exercising in a pool, you’ll likely be able to run longer. And, you can do both aerobic and anaerobic exercise in a pool with little to no risk of aggravating areas that are in pain.
  3. Dial back the intensity. For many of us, it’s not a real workout unless we’re going as hard as we can for as long as we can. But when you’re in pain or nursing an injury, that approach isn’t very smart. However, some kinds of pain can be worked through. For example, research has shown that some arthritis pain can actually be alleviated via moderate exercise – but only if you’re willing to endure that initial discomfort. Only you know your pain threshold, but it’s worth considering.
  4. Know the difference between “pain” and “injury.” Competitive athletes deal with this conundrum all the time. “Pain” is something you can work through or train around. “Injuries,” on the other hand, can’t heal without rest. But for the typical person, exercising is something that should invigorate and improve one’s life. It should never be a detriment, and any pain that lasts more than a few days is more than just typical muscle soreness.
  5. Remember: Pain isn’t permanent! There’s no question that the mind and body are connected – especially when it comes to the power of positive thinking. With practice, many athletes can redirect their focus when they’re in pain. One strategy is to remind yourself that the pain will eventually end. Another is to train your mind to refocus itself away from the pain with calming thoughts, mental imagery and self-hypnotic mantras, all of which will help you tolerate discomfort until the moment has truly passed.

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