, Q&A Wednesday, RunningQ&A Wednesday: The “I Can’t Do It! Really! It Hurts!” Workout Pain

Q&A Wednesday: The “I Can’t Do It! Really! It Hurts!” Workout Pain

The number of people I’ve had ask me questions about workout-related injuries in the past three weeks… what are y’all doin’ out there? Lifting cars? Moving mountains? Running ten miles across the city to go home because you dropped off a moving truck without a ride home?

Oh, that last one is too familiar… but that’s beside the point.

The reality is that workout-related injuries happen. They just… they happen. There’s no way around that. The fact of the matter is that as a beginner, it is extremely easy to injure yourself simply because we all want to go wayyyy too hard in the paint too soon. That’s admirable, but it’s also dangerous.

I think about it, and it makes me cringe – when I was over 300lbs, there’s no part of me that would’ve been able to ever run for a minute straight, let alone a mile straight. I would’ve been fatigued – my breathing would’ve been short; the balls and heels of my feet would’ve been sore; my body would’ve been too in shock from the “out-of-nowhere stress” to be able to properly heal; my head would’ve began to hurt from the sweat and dehydration.

Yes. And it all happens that fast.

See, you have to always keep in mind what the purpose of exercise truly is – you make sure that you make use of a repeated motion or activity on a regular basis so that you don’t lose the ability to execute that motion or activity. How many people do we know that could, once upon a time, “do the splits” only to be saddened by the fact that they couldn’t amymore? That’s an ability that you develop – either as a young child or growing up – and if you don’t work to maintain it, you can and will lose it.

This is one of the main reasons why our elders experience such difficulty with aging – decreased movement, losing the ability to execute regular activities, lack of muscle to protect their bodies from injury.

This is what exercise is for. Weight loss is just an added benefit of exercise and increased activity levels.

That being said… getting back to 300lb me. I spent so much time being inactive, that I absolutely lost the abilities that I once had. My body wasn’t used to that much activity. My feet weren’t used to taking the kind of pounding that running provides. My lungs weren’t used to having to operate under such different circumstances. Those are abilities that you have to develop.

That’s not to say that a 300lb person can’t already have those abilities. That’s to say that the 300lb me became 300lbs partly because I stopped making use of my abilities. I stopped being active (at a very young age) and lost my ability to handle activity.

In other words, I had to start over. And starting over is terribly difficult when your body may already have difficulty handling the weight you’re carrying. That’s okay to admit. It’s also important that you admit it – there are no badges or awards given out for “toughing it out, even though your body is crying on the inside and you’re not gonna be able to walk for three days.” Stop doing it to yourself. I get it – no one wants to be the “chubby chick who had to stop in the middle of step aerobics who gets barked at by the instructor for stopping,” but screw that – that instructor is going to assume you’re being lazy. You know you’re trying to prevent further injury (unless you are, in fact, just trying to be lazy… in which case, get up and keep workin’!) and what you know is more important than the instructor’s assumption.

So many people shy away from running because they believe that they “can’t do it.” They have foot pain, joint pain, leg pain… they’re in agony whenever they try. Well, if your body isn’t used to running, what do you expect? It’s a shock! That’s why you have to train up to having that ability. You can’t just start out running full force – I know the runners on the sidewalk make it look sooooooo easy (I know… they got me that way, too) but it really requires you to train your body up to being able to handle that ability. Start off slow. Walk first.

I can hear it, now.

“But Erika, what if you weigh too much to run at all?”

Walk! That’s what I did – walking for 45 minutes a day, every day, helped me lose my first 50lbs. After that, I felt okay to try to run intervals. I felt like walking for 45 mins for a few months helped prepare my body for what felt like intense activity, and before too long? I was running for one minute, walking for four minutes. After that got boring and easy? Running for two minutes, walking for three. Then? Running for three minutes, walking for four. Then running for four minutes, walking for 1…. and from there? I was pretty unstoppable. The walking facilitated the weight loss that allowed me to be able to run without pain. My size combined with the duration of my workout – regardless of how intense the workout may appear to others – still created a lot of weight loss in a short amount of time. All I remember is that I was sweating. That’s always a plus.

The truth is… taking the time to go from sedentary to active requires a lot of patience, and acceptance of the fact that you cannot jump in full steam ahead. If you are experiencing pain* after a workout, think long and hard about whether or not you could – or should – scale it back a bit and take it slower. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you’ll still benefit from being active. It just… isn’t worth injuring yourself just because you wanna “lose weight, like, yesterday!” Spend time developing these abilities, and I promise your body will thank you. It’ll pay off in spades… or pounds!

*This kind of pain is different from the discomfort felt as you lift weights. There’s a little bit of discomfort that should take place over the course of executing a controlled motion – like a basic bicep curl – because you are challenging the muscle and compelling it to grow. That’s felt in the muscle, though. Anywhere else, and you should probably take the time to figure out what’s wrong.

Want more workout-related Q&A Wednesday?

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By | 2017-06-10T11:30:15+00:00 August 29th, 2013|Exercise 101, Q&A Wednesday, Running|22 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. JoAnna January 5, 2011 at 2:24 PM - Reply

    Preach, Erika!

    My trainer saw me in the rehab/gym yesterday and asked how I was feeling. I told her that I have some ongoing hip joint pain after walking on the treadmill. I’m limping like I need a cane, and taking the stairs one at a time. Told her I’m not sure if it’s a combo of the daily workouts, my weight, “Arthur” or all 3. She agreed, and we’re scaling back the intensity, but adding more time on seated steppers and rowing machines, etc. I remind myself that this “discomfort” will pass in a few weeks. But it hurts! My clothes are fitting better, but I feel worst.

    Last week I was trying to get my heartrate into the target zone of 126-138. After 6mins on the treadmill, I was at 123. So I upped the speed. I was sweatin’, pantin’ to the House music on my ipod and one of the nurses came over to slow down my treadmill, then to stop it. I was FIRMLY told to walk around the gym and get 2 cups of water. After I had cooled down a bit I was told that they liked me to visit them at the rehab/gym, not to become a guest at the hospital.

    It’s just hard sometimes to look to my right and see an old lady with thinning white hair on the seated stepper goin at it at level 6, and another old guy to my left attached to an oxygen tank just cruising at level 5. And I’m counting my pitiful steps at level 1-2… I’m the youngest person in the gym except for some of the nurses, physical therapists, and cardiologists.

    My New Year’s resolution is to treat this like gardening: it can’t get done in a day. I didn’t gain the weight in a month. I ate myself into it over years! I’m just getting accustomed to working out 3-4 days per week. I want to up that to 5 days in 2 weeks, the time to 45mins if my trainer agrees. Eventually, I’ll get to 60+mins 5 days/week by March. Of course, this is only in the gym. I try to do stretches and some ab work at home. I actually felt funny not going to the rehab/gym when it was closed for Christmas and New Year’s eve.

    Another hard thing is the dreary weather here in Detroit. Highs in the mid-20’s, overcast, snow flurries… I have to chant ” Sunshine. Sandals. Bermuda shorts. Sundresses.” on my way to the gym when I just want to come home, eat, and veg in front of the tv.

    • Tiffany May 15, 2013 at 11:20 PM - Reply

      I am so happy you shared this Joanna 🙂 It’s a hard choice to decide to totally change your lifestyle and then actually do something about it, and you have. Then it’s easy to compare yourself to other people who are at different ability levels and at different places in their fitness journeys. Especially when you feel like they’re light years ahead of you. I like your gardening analogy. I also like this quote: Always remember that the future is made one day at a time.
      In a day and age where it’s so easy to get instant gratification, there is much to be said about those who can truly take their challenges one day at a time. So you go on girl!! 🙂

  2. Alexis January 5, 2011 at 2:38 PM - Reply


    What happens when you’re already in pain prior to the workout? What would you recommend? For instance, my knee has arthritis and to top it off, I have some damage to it that chips off a piece of the cartiledge behind my knee. Some days (depending on the weather, LOL), I can barely walk….other days, I feel like I can do anything…. I’ve tried working out with my brace on, but that’s virtually impossible!

    • Erika January 5, 2011 at 2:41 PM - Reply

      Two words: Water Aerobics.

    • Rooo July 22, 2011 at 3:04 AM - Reply

      One more word: Pilates.

      You work out first lying down, then sitting, then kneeling, then standing, so the body can work up to the strength it needs

      Privates first, to learn how to move your body properly through the exercises. Don’t start without taking your privates with a certified instructor.

      Yes, I know it’s expensive. You save up; you find a discount rate.
      (Look at it this way — you pay your trainer, or you pay the hospital …)

      You can work with your DVDs at home after you’ve learned how to do the work.

  3. keyalus January 5, 2011 at 2:55 PM - Reply

    I agree with you about stepping back and taking it slow sometimes. Fit pre-baby me ran a full marathon in November 2008. Had a baby in Sept 09 and 200+ lb me that next January couldn’t run anywhere! I started running again using Couch 2 5K and It has taken me about a year to get back to my former running level. It has been hard and humbling to be patient and accept a slower speed that my body could handle I have completely avoided injury though and that was well worth it.

  4. Mia January 6, 2011 at 10:42 AM - Reply

    You have lit a fire under my butt with this one. I haven’t been exercising at all. I’ve lost about 30 pounds just clean eating and dread exercising because I have that “all out” mentality…going hard in the paint. But I too, have arthritis in my knee and have tried running before to only end up limping and ultimately quiting. Also, I have a previous shoulder injury which likes to come out as soon as I try to lift weights. So now, I am going to just start walking like you did, and work on my pushups and situps. Weightless workouts until my mustles build up. Thank you Erica!

  5. Curlytrini87 January 7, 2011 at 10:14 PM - Reply

    Great Article Erika!
    This is what i have been doing every day>>> well every other day!
    I am going to take your advice and trying to walk fro 45 mins a day..

    P.S> Why you never response back to my tweets? lol

    • Erika January 7, 2011 at 10:34 PM - Reply

      Hmmm… is your account private? If so, I can’t see your tweets. 🙁 I respond to just about 95% of everything sent to me, and the other 5% is usually spam.

  6. Kitty January 11, 2011 at 3:08 AM - Reply

    Darn. I guess I’ve been going too hard myself. I worked out like a beginner for about a month or 2 and then stepped it up and my body was screaming at me!

    My feet were in pain- everyday! And that wasn’t normal, even at my current weight of 205 lbs. I did at this intensity (beginner: rest one day for each day workout, to a bit harder: cardio 2x and strength x3 or 4x) go from 220 lbs to 205 lbs, but I was in too much pain. So I rested for about a week. I feel better so I’m going to start the beginner again and wait a bit before moving up again.

    Thanks so much for this post!

  7. Ann June 1, 2011 at 6:49 PM - Reply

    I simply don’t like running. I refuse to do it. It’s painful. My feet were broken and reset when I was a baby. I have flat feet and I’m pear-shaped. I’ve tried running long enough to know that, comparatively, it feels like a women with 40EEE running without a bra. I’ll jump rope in place for 30 minutes, and “run” up and down the 75 stadium steps 10 x (only pausing 3-5 times), before I’ll ever run. When is it ever OK to say, I won’t do an exercise because I’ve tried it and didn’t like it? Why do I have to conquer it?

    • Erika Nicole Kendall June 1, 2011 at 7:03 PM - Reply

      Because, in regards to quality of life, running is a basic function that you may very well need in order to save your life – or the life of someone you love some day – and in the best interest of physical fitness, you need to have it in your back pocket.

      It really isn’t about that kind of badge of honor that say “Yep. I’m a runner.” It’s MUCH more about physical capability.

      There are lots of people who weigh upwards of 200 who have difficulty running and, if you’re beneath six feet, that’s to be expected. It’s “a lot of weight” for the body to carry, regardless of what the mass consists of – muscle or fat. Exercises that are taxing on the body with a lot of impact are GOING to be painful. It’s something you have to deal with on the way down, so to speak.

      I don’t know if you’re actively trying to lose weight or simply be fit, but it’s like this – if you have legitimate medical reason to not push yourself, then fine. Accept that, don’t push yourself, and don’t feel obligated to explain yourself to anyone. But if this process gives you pause – the process that compels you to decide you don’t WANT to be able to do this very basic function that people need to survive – then maybe you should simply take some steps back, expect running to be difficult and allow yourself the time and patience to learn how to do it right.

      I refused to do chin-ups, but it wasn’t because “it’s painful.”It was because I wanted a cop out since I couldn’t do it. It seems petty now that I took that path. Who knows – maybe down the line, you’ll look back and say the same thing.

  8. Rooo July 20, 2011 at 2:05 AM - Reply

    I’ve been trying to manage post-workout soreness w/arnica and topricin, all holistic-like.

    Bump that. I just swallowed three Advil so I could sleep because my Pilates terminator teacher worked me so hard I can’t lift my arms.

    I will be good to my liver again tomorrow, LOL.

  9. Ayanna March 2, 2012 at 1:30 AM - Reply

    I would like to know what speed your were working out at when you walked for 45 minutes and also were you using a treadmill and if so, did you use the incline?

  10. Freda March 13, 2012 at 11:58 PM - Reply

    I’m (unfortunately) intimately familiar with pain, having been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia two years ago although I feel I’ve been suffering from it for much longer. I’ve been in some sort of chronic pain for more than 20 years. I was in really good shape when I was first injured but, as a result of the pain, became sedentary and gained lots of weight. The weight gain caused even more pain, making me want to move less and so on and so on – it was a downward spiral which resulted in my being 80 lbs heavier than I was when all this mess began. Last year, I decided to reclaim my life and started exercising. A key part of even being ABLE to exercise was pain management. I tried a few pain meds until I found a few (of varying strengths) I could take, according to need. At the advice of my Rheumatologist I began exercising only 10 minutes at a time. I’m now able to get through an entire Zumba class or spend an hour on a treadmill or elliptical trainer. I’m 30 lbs lighter, and quite a bit smaller due to muscle gains from weight training (with a personal trainer who monitors my form). I would suggest for anyone who has chronic pain problems to consult with their doctor. Pain is a condition that needs to be treated. Don’t be a “pain martyr” — untreated pain can lead to Fibromyalgia.

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