5 Workout Mantras That Are Bad for Your Body

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You see them popping up all the time on Pinterest and Facebook–inspirational workout slogans meant to get you motivated to exercise. But can some of them actually be harmful to your health?

We asked Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., a psychologist, physical therapist and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, and Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise to weigh in on some of the more popular mantras we’ve seen lately.

Mantra #1: No pain, no gain
This motto isn’t doing your body any favors and could actually be setting you up for injury say both of our experts. “Pain is your body indicating that something is not right,” says Dr. Lombardo. “Pushing through pain results in injury. In contrast, ‘no train, no gain’ is more accurate–you need to train your body in order to make changes, and sometimes that includes working your body so you fatigue the muscles, but that is VERY different from pain,” she explains.

McCall agrees: “There is a big difference between pain and discomfort; when we exercise we need to push ourselves to discomfort in order to create an overload and create adaptation. Discomfort = progression and growth, pain = stop and rest.”

Mantra #2: You can feel sore tomorrow, or you can feel sorry tomorrow
We get what this mantra is aiming at (i.e. get that workout in!), but we can’t say it sounds too inspiring to us. “This focuses on two negatives, and it is hard to be motivated by a negative,” Dr. Lombardo points out. “It leaves us with a sense of fear. Instead, focus on the positive, such as, I will feel so much better (physically and psychologically) when I exercise.”

Mantra #3: Want faster results? Simple. Work harder.

This one should say, ‘Want faster results? Train smarter,’ says McCall. “Working harder is not necessarily going to produce change. Exercise is physical stress applied to the body; how (and how much) the stress is applied will determine the results,” explains McCall. And, believe it or not, your body actually gets stronger in the rest/recovery period after training, so it’s important to allow your body to recovery adequately from tough workouts, McCall explains. Not to mention, pushing too hard, too often can lead to overtraining, which could cause an injury or lingering sickness, he says. Instead of subscribing to the ‘go hard or go home’ motto for every workout, McCall recommends using a periodized training schedule, and alternate your high intensity days with lower intensity sessions to allow your body to recover, but continue to keep your body moving. “Many top athletes follow this sort of schedule and it provides great results,” he says.

Mantra #4: Pain is weakness leaving the body
This may be an effective slogan for the Marine Corps, but it is not a good mantra for the average person, says McCall. “Pain is a signal that something is going wrong in the body and that whatever is happening at that moment to cause pain should STOP.” Even if you feel a little pain during a workout and think that you could work through it, you could actually be doing a lot of harm by creating an injury that could derail training for months, cautions McCall. Again, the key with this one is making sure you know the important difference between pain and discomfort. “If you feel a little uncomfortable or discomfort, work through it, that’s how you get stronger. But if you feel pain – STOP, it’s better to rest, heal and come back to fight (train) another day,” he says.

Mantra #5: Earn your body

This mantra seems to suggest you don’t deserve the body you have right now, in this moment, which is enough to deflate anyone’s self-esteem. While you may be striving to achieve goals you’ve set for yourself at the gym, don’t forget that your body is pretty amazing just as it is today, even if it may be five or ten pounds heavier than you’d like. “It is important to appreciate your body in the here and now, and for all that it does for you,” says Dr. Lombardo. “Part of that appreciation includes wanting it to be healthier. When we talk about exercise, the goal is to be grateful for all that your body does and want to improve it because you love it.” Amen!

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