Home Exercise 101 Q&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

by Erika Nicole Kendall

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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JoAnna January 5, 2011 - 2:24 PM

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 - 11:20 PM

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!! 🙂

Alexis January 5, 2011 - 2:38 PM


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 - 2:41 PM

Two words: Water Aerobics.

Rooo July 22, 2011 - 3:04 AM

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.

keyalus January 5, 2011 - 2:55 PM

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.

Mia January 6, 2011 - 10:42 AM

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!

Curlytrini87 January 7, 2011 - 10:14 PM

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 - 10:34 PM

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.

Kitty January 11, 2011 - 3:08 AM

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!

Ann June 1, 2011 - 6:49 PM

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 - 7:03 PM

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.

Rooo July 20, 2011 - 2:05 AM

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.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 20, 2011 - 3:25 AM

Dude! Ice bath! LOL!

Ayanna March 2, 2012 - 1:30 AM

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?

Erika Nicole Kendall March 2, 2012 - 7:29 AM

Probably a 3.5 speed with a moderate incline? Can’t remember, sorry to say.

Freda March 13, 2012 - 11:58 PM

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.

Tanisha August 22, 2012 - 5:39 PM

Erika your reposting of this story was right on time for me. Especially the line that : “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.”

It’s hard enough being the only big girl at the gym. I’ve come to terms with the fact that no matter what class I attend, or when I get on that treadmill – I will be the biggest woman in the room … but to have the instructor call you out too… it’s the worst (and it has definitely happened to me). I’ve come to the point where if I go to a class I’ve never tried or have a new instructor, I go talk to the instructor before the class starts and ask how intense the class will be. If they say it is harder than a beginner’s course (I’m not a beginner, but it is more difficult for me to do the things everyone else is doing), I inform them that I may choose to modify what I do to fit my comfort level, and I’d appreciate it if they didn’t single me out / call me out in front of everyone. I shouldn’t have to do this, but I’ve found some instructors to be flat out rude to me. However, this method has backfired before, as the instructor then becomes overly laudatory, like telling me: “Good Job! Wow, you’re doing great” repeatedly, while never saying it to anyone else in the class. That’s almost as bad as being called out.

Tiffany May 15, 2013 - 11:10 PM

This is so true! Somehow it’s become common belief that it’s somehow noble to be in crippling pain after a workout, but then most people get discouraged and stop trying. Another thing, don’t feel like you have to keep up with the people in exercise videos. I watch vids on youtube and I can do maybe four or five reps of an exercise in the space that the video instructor can do ten. But I’m totally okay with that at this point. As long as I’m giving my own 100% I know I’m doing it right.

Dawn September 10, 2013 - 6:33 PM

Hey Erica! I enjoy your blog and this is a good post.

I’d like to add, as someone overweight who’s relearning how to “move,” build stamina and strength, I need to be careful heeding the advice and reaching for the level of my fit workout partner.

At times I nearly have to yell at my buddy when she tries to push me too hard. I’m nowhere near her fitness level, and she forgets that. My creaky knees don’t LOL!

Other times, I take her advice and impress both of us
–but that’s only when I’M ready.

Tab October 3, 2013 - 12:04 AM

I’ve been going to the gym 3-4 times a week since January and I’m still trying to figure out when I’m going to start liking it. I have chronic pain from a bad car accident in 2007. Mentally I know aerobics and strength training will help me in the long run, but I leave in more pain than when I go in. Limping out of the gym really hinders my motivation to go again, but I have to. 1. My husband makes me and 2. I’m sick of what I see in the mirror. 3. My overall health depends on me getting healthy. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired, (literally) but how can I get in to a fitness routine that I don’t hate and that actually produces results?

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