‘No pain, no gain’ shouldn’t be runners’ training mantra, experts say

As a training motto, it is as dated as a Jane Fonda aerobics video.

“No pain, no gain has been debunked, especially for runners,” said Jean-Francois Esculier, the vice-president and director of research and development with The Running Clinic. “Some of my patients think that running with pain is normal. It’s actually not normal to have pain when you run.”

Esculier is doing a post-doctoral fellowship at UBC and is a physiotherapist at Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Clinic. In other words, he knows his stuff.

So how does one prevent pain in the first place while training?

“That’s a really good question, he said. “Believe it or not, but in terms of how many runners suffer injury every year it’s about 50 per cent.”

As well, an injury is difficult to define, a lot of it depends on an individual’s pain threshold.

“When you feel pain, your body is sending you a message,” Esculier said. “If you start feeling some pain, maybe end your run or walk a little bit before trying to run again.

“If you run in pain, the pain is likely to stick around after. That could wreck your whole week of training.”

Joining a running group or having a more experienced running partner makes it easy to push too hard while trying to keep up, massage therapist Sean Cannon said.

“You’re running someone else’s race, so to speak. It’s easy to overdo it.”

A good tool is the talk test, Cannon said.

“If you’re running and able to talk on the phone, you’re probably going at a good pace.”

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If you’re considering a massage, don’t book it the day before a race, he said.

“The research says it’s most beneficial within 48 hours of (running) a race or a really long run.”

Esculier said so many factors go into pain management. People don’t just react differently to pain, they react differently to the same training program. Also in consideration are an individual’s history of injury, running experience, their occupation, other activities besides running.

“Every muscle, tendon, ligament, joint and bone in your body has a maximum capacity to tolerate mechanical stress,” he said. “Make sure you leave enough time for your body to adapt to the mechanical stress induced by your program. Listen to your body sending you signals.

“Typically, overloading your body will result in pain during the run, pain after the run and pain or stiffness when getting out of bed the following morning.

“My advice when you start to feel pain is to walk a bit and see how it goes. If the pain is still there be wise and take your run off. And if you wake up the next morning and you still feel pain, maybe take another day off.”

As for seeking physio, it’s a good idea to seek it right away if your race is close to happening.

If the race is three months away, take a couple of days off and see if the pain goes away. If it doesn’t, consider a visit to a physiotherapist.

“It’s better to take two days off now and then gradually ease back into your training, rather than compromising your whole training program,” Esculier said.

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“Most running injuries are caused by trying to do too much too soon.”



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