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Does exercise really need to be painful to see results?

Despite our ingrained belief that exercise needs to be painful, sweaty and uncomfortable to get results, there is no evidence that pain is needed to improve fitness. Yet, the belief lives on through media images and tough exercise programs all based on the four word mantra “no pain no gain”. Interestingly, there is plenty of evidence from neuroscience that pain will most certainly keep you from staying motivated. Do we really need to be in pain, exhausted and sweaty to get results from exercise? Lets take a look.

What results do you want from exercise?

The first question to ask yourself is “what results do I want from exercise?”. If you want to be an athlete and gain a competitive edge, yes, you will need to endure some pain. If you just want “aesthetic fitness”; to look better in a bathing suit or body building stage, ye,s pain and fatigue are likely going to be side effects of your training routine. If you are exercising to feel better mentally and physically, be healthy and well, both now and in the future, pain will actually take you in the opposite direction, leading you away from the results you really want.

“No Pain No Gain” Is Not Meant for You

The saying “No Pain No Gain” was invented for athletes to remind them that if you want to gain a competitive edge, pain is going to be part of the process. It was NOT invented to mean that you have to be in pain to get gain. If you are not exercising to be an athlete, this saying is simply not meant for you.

But What About a Good Sore?

The term a ‘good sore’ was born out of the misuse of the saying “no pain no gain”. It comes from the belief that muscle soreness means you are burning more calories and fat, getting more muscle tone and making progress toward losing weight and getting ‘in shape’. Yet, there is not one published study that shows muscle soreness is necessary for improving strength, burning calories or fat, or improving muscle tone.

Not a single study!

The term ‘good sore’ is really an oxymoron. There is no good reason to be sore.

Isn’t Soreness Part of Getting Back in Shape?

I often hear from patients, “yes it’s painful but its because I am overweight and out of shape”. When we take a step back from that statement, and see that there is no benefit to pain, we realize that it is not your body that is the problem, it is the exercise you are doing to get back into shape. When you adapt exercise for your body, rather than thinking your body just has to get used to an exercise you think you need to do, the pain goes away, enjoyment goes up and so does consistency.

Science Says: No pain, More Gain

So the body scientists agree, there is no gain in pain. The brain scientists also agree that pain is a sure sign motivation will fade. Your brain is hardwired to avoid what makes you feel worse, and repeat what makes you feel better. When exercise is painful, your body is telling your brain this is something to avoid. No matter how much you tell yourself it’s a good sore, your brain is going to believe what your body is feeling and eventually your will make excuses why you cannot exercise.

When you know how to adapt exercise so it does not cause pain, and instead leaves you feeling better, you gain something much more valuable for results – the ease of staying motivated! Consistency is how we get results that last.

Bottom Line About Pain and Exercise

If the ‘No Pain No Gain” mantra rattles around in your head when you are exercising (or thinking of exercising), trade it for a way of thinking about exercise that is meant for you. There is no gain in pain. Pain is simply a sign something needs to change.

  1. Learn how to move the way your body is designed to move so exercises feels good
  2. Notice when your brain is telling your body what it should be able to do and instead let your body tell your brain what it can do now.
  3. Notice when exercise makes you feel better physically (less pain, more energy, less anxious, not sore, etc). That will help your brain want to choose to do it again.
  4. Use a slow gradual progression when increasing exercise. Your body can adapt to only 10% more each week. Slow and steady gets you results.

Whew! Isn’t it great to know you don’t have to endure pain to get results!

Keep Moving, Be Well


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by | October 6, 2020 · 8:51 pm

A longer pandemic means a greater need for exercise

We are living in a time when our opportunities to exercise and be physically active are limited, yet we have a greater need for what regular exercise can give us. This problem is solvable, but knowledge is key. Six months into this pandemic here in the US also means we have accumulated some research about the long term effects of social isolation on mental health, a better understanding about the way the COVID-19 virus spreads, and how to exercise safely and effectively during this new normal.

Social isolation and your health

Although social isolation plays a key role in protecting our health right now, it can take its toll on our mental health. There are greater levels of fear, and distress, and people are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety. Studies show rates of mental health issues are on the rise since the pandemic started. 1 Add this to the fact that we are moving less as we shop and work online and have less reasons to leave our homes, and we have a recipe that is taking its toll on our mental and physical health.

Exercise is part of being safe

We know that people who exercise regularly are less likely to have colds and flu as well as better management of the higher risk medical conditions like diabetes. People who exercise regularly have lower rates of depression and anxiety. Exercising regularly keeps your immune system stronger and your brain chemicals in better balance. However not all exercise is created equal. There are some specifics about how to keep moving right now that can make a big difference in keeping you safe and healthy

How to exercise to stay safe

Recent research has found some tips to keep in mind when exercising during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Moderate intensity rather than high intensity: High intensity exercise means more mouth breathing and a higher breathing rate. This can increase the spread of those droplets carrying the virus. High intensity exercise can also drain rather than increase your immune systems function.2 Moderate intensity exercise, where your breathing is comfortable, but more than if you were sitting and resting, is enough to keep your immune system strong and could reduce the spread of the virus if you are exercising around others.
  • Side by side and distancing: Studies are showing that exercising side by side such as walking outdoors with a friend is safer than in a line or a group. Runners and bikers need more of a distance when they are lined up because the droplets from mouth breathing are passed backward from one person to another. Six feet is still the rule for side by side, but further is needed for exercising in a group when someone is in front of you. 2
  • Stay consistent, even through winter: As the weather is going to change very soon, its time to think about your Spring Training plan so you have enough in home options or are ready for exercising outdoors through the winter. Exercising is great but it’s the ‘regularly’ part that gives it power.
  • Click here to see a chart for more detailed recommendations

Bottom Line: As the pandemic is lasting longer than most of us expected six months ago, exercise becoming an even more important part of staying safe and healthy, both mentally and physically. As we have more and more research on the effects of this pandemic on our health, its becoming clear that making the extra effort to keep exercise a part of your lifestyle can give you the boost you need to get through this time healthy and well.

If you are not exercising regularly right now, start with something you enjoy, do it at a light intensity, for a short duration like five to ten minutes and build up gradually by listening to your body. You want it to leave you feeling better both mentally and physically so it improves health and it is something you want to do regularly.

If you are a weight center patient and don’t know where to start, contact me and we will figure it out!

Keep Moving, Be Well,


  1. Czeisler MÉ , Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1049–1057. DOI: icon.
  2. Dominski, F.H., Brandt, R. Do the benefits of exercise in indoor and outdoor environments during the COVID-19 pandemic outweigh the risks of infection?. Sport Sci Health 16, 583–588 (2020).


by | September 29, 2020 · 8:12 pm

Is that fitness expert right for you? Three questions to ask yourself.

Most people struggle with getting enough exercise, but not because there is a lack of information. All you have to do is open a magazine, scroll through social media, look in the self-help section of the bookstore or do a quick internet search and you can get answers to just about any question about exercise. In this sea of information, how do you know who to listen to as a guide? Here are three questions to ask yourself when you get advice about exercise:

What am I looking for from exercise?

Exercise is one word with several purposes. You could exercise to:

  • improve athletic performance
  • achieve a certain ‘ look’ in your body
  • improve your health and function in daily life

Although you could get a bit of all three results from any form of exercise, it is difficult to get what you really want unless you exercise specifically for what you want most. Its just the way our body is designed; you get what you train for. Getting really clear about what you want most will help you narrow down the search for an expert in that type of fitness. Is looking better more important to you than feeling better? Is athletic performance more important than staying healthy as you age? These are essential questions to ask yourself before you even search for information.

Exercising for weight loss is tricky though because weight loss is not a goal, its a method for getting what you want. You might want to lose weight perform better in sports, to look better, or be healthier or function better. I have not met anyone who said they just want the scale to go down but they don’t care about how they feel, or how they function at that goal weight. This is why weight loss is not a goal, its a method for getting what you want. You might want to lose weight for all three reasons but you need to ask yourself which is most important to you about weight loss so you find the right advice to get it.

What is their experience and training?

Exercise is a field of scientific study. Just like any other field, there are specialties and levels of training. Since anyone can call themselves a fitness trainer or expert, you need to do a bit of digging to find out about their experience and training. Look at their bio, do an internet search, and if possible ask them where they went to school, what their degree was in, what types of certifications they hold. If their qualifications are based on their own personal story but no official training, be wary. If their career has been focused on training athletes and your main goal is to be healthy, that is not the expert for you. If you are looking to lose weight to be healthy and function better and you have some medical concerns or pain limitations, you want someone who knows medical as well as exercise science.

Is exercise within their scope of practice?

Scope of practice is a term used to keep professionals from wearing too many hats. For example, as an exercise professional, nutrition is out of my scope of practice. I took a nutrition course and have worked alongside some amazing dietitians, but I am not qualified to give you advice about your diet. Nutrition and exercise are two humongous fields of study with constant research to stay up to date about. This information is larger than one person could realistically master. When someone gives advice about many fields of study, you miss out.

This can seem a bit over the top because we are so used to getting advice about exercise from many sources; from chapters in books about being successful in business to improving mental health. ‘Exercise regularly’ is great advice, but the details are best left to someone who specializes only in exercise. Ask yourself if the person telling you how to exercise is out of their scope of practice. If so, head to a book or a site by someone who focuses only on the type of exercise that is right for you.

There is one last question that is helpful “what is my gut telling me?” You need to trust this person because they are helping you take care of your body. When you heed their advice, listen to your body above all else, because you are the best expert on how it is feeling. Only you know if what you are doing is giving you what you want from your investment in exercise.

Keep Moving, Be Well


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by | September 15, 2020 · 9:42 pm

You have permission to listen to your body

This is a brief post with a very important, message about exercising for weight loss success.

This week, at the end our telehealth visit, a patient said to me “thank you for giving me permission to listen to my body!”

At first I was so glad she heard the message about how to use what her body was telling her to find the right amount of exercise.

The more I thought about that statement though, the more uneasy I became. It occurred to me how many times I see that relief on a patients face when I tell them they can listen to and trust their body. It’s like the stress of exercise is finally lifted and they are free to just enjoy moving their body in its current condition.

The messages that your body is something to ignore or overcome are not meant for you, the person trying to lose weight, and be healthy. They are meant for the athlete, the military professional and anyone else who needs to push their body to the limit to compete.

I want you to know that you have permission to ignore all of those messages that your body is a problem, an enemy you need to fight against in order to lose weight. You can ignore the advice to distract or that you need someone to push you to get through a workout. Its simply not meant for you.

If you are trying to lose weight so you can be healthy, enjoy more of life, and live longer, listening to your body is the only way to get there and stay there! The irony is, you wont feel lazy or have to push yourself to get to the gym any more. When you listen to your body, you will find ways to exercise that are sustainable, that you want to do because they make you feel better now. That is the way to exercise for weight loss success (that lasts)

So from this day forward, you are granted permission to listen to your body when you exercise. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different!

Keep Moving, Listen to Your Body, and Be Well,


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by | September 1, 2020 · 9:48 pm

What it means when exercise makes your weight go up



You work really hard at exercising for a whole month, enduring tough workouts, achy muscles and fatigue.   You get on the scale and WHAT!!??? How could you have gained weight?

It’s just not working. Whats the point?. Maybe you just need to step it up a bit.  Maybe you should just give up.

Before you do anything, when it seems like exercise is making you gain weight rather than lose weight, take a moment understand what is happening when the scale goes up when you exercise.

It starts by understanding that the scale measures EVERYTHING in your body.  When the numbers go up, you don’t know what you gained. When the numbers go down you also don’t know what you lost!

When your muscles are sore, it means they are working hard to recover from doing more than they are used to doing.  That recovery takes fluid.  This is one possible explanation for the scale going up.  It means your body is trying to help you recover, not that it is trying to sabotage you.  Once the soreness goes away, your body will let go of that extra fluid.

This brings up an important point.  Soreness is a sign of doing too much too soon. It is NOT a sign of progress or burning more calories or fat.  The saying ‘no pain no gain’ is meant for athletes trying to gain a competitive edge. Pain is a side effect of that kind of exercise.  Pain for the rest of us only means you that you are pushing it too hard.  This is one of the most challenging facts about exercise.There is no such thing as a ‘good sore’.  

Doing too much too soon also signals to your body that you are going to need more energy, so it increases hunger signals.  You may end up eating more when you make a sudden increase in your exercise and activity levels.  This could also be contributing to the scale is going up.

One thing is for sure, that sudden increase is NOT muscle gain.  In a really good strength training program it takes about three months to increase a pound or two of muscle mass.  If you are limiting calories at the same time, you are less likely to gain muscle mass.  Plus, if you are over thirty, your body is tending to lose muscle just from aging.  If you are a women in the stage of  perimenopause or menopause, you are losing muscle faster.  Certain medications also speed up muscle loss.   Gaining muscle, for most of us, is not a problem – losing muscle is the problem. For most of us, muscle is not going to show up on the scale in any measurable way.

Even though it seems counter-intuitive, if the scale is going up when you have suddenly increased your exercise level, it could be a sign you need a bit less exercise right now, not more.  Listen to your body.  If exercise leaves you with more energy, less pain, and a better mental outlook, you have found your level of enough. That better mental outlook will most likely do more for weight loss if it helps you reduce emotional eating.

Remember that your body is trying to help you, so work with it and exercise will give you so many benefits that no medication or super food can provide! The scale is a guide, that’s all.   A slow gradual progression and consistency with a balanced exercise program is the way to weight loss success, that lasts.

Keep Moving Be Well,



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by | August 18, 2020 · 9:14 pm