Gimme something for the pain!

Over the years I’ve read lots of books on the subject of weight training.  One of my favourites is a part-autobiography and part-instruction manual called “Arnold—the Education of a Bodybuilder”.  In it, the Arnold in question (Schwarzenegger) uses a throwaway line to deal with the topic of what is technically known as “delayed onset muscle soreness” (DOMS).

DOMS is the result of subjecting your muscles to overload and it’s a feeling every adult knows whether they have trained with weights or not—a certain painful stiffness or muscle soreness a day or two after exertion. In the case of intensive weight training, DOMS can be quite severe - but Arnold’s advice is simply this: “Don’t worry about pain. It means growth.”

In other words, the pain is an indication that you have subjected your muscles to overload—as a result, muscle fibres have become damaged but, to Arnold’s point, provided that you allow them to recuperate they will not only repair themselves but they will compensate for this strange new load you are subjecting them to by building up a bit more and becoming stronger. Hey presto! You get bigger, stronger muscles.

Conversely, if you do not experience any pain, this is an indication that you have not been stretched beyond your comfort zone—and therefore, since the load was within your current capabilities, there is no need for growth and strengthening to occur.

I always liked Arnold’s direct way of saying this and it’s always stayed with me. “Don’t worry about pain. It means growth.”  These days, I still love weight training and still smile at Arnold’s line twenty years or so after first reading it. In that time I’ve come through a lot of pain—plenty of it in the gym, to be sure, but also in life in general.  I guess anyone who has been around long enough would say the same—we all get to go through pain, grief and sadness along the way, don’t we?

If that’s you right now, it can be hard  to find comfort in the time of pain, and yet I have come to believe that as it is in weight training, so it is in life in general.  Going through pain results in growth.

Importantly, though, there is another phrase in weight training that says “You only grow while you’re resting” - in other words, you don’t grow whilst you’re actually in the gym, going through the pain that stimulates growth—but afterwards, when you have rested and recovered, THEN growth takes place.

So it is in life. When going through times of terrible pain (whether physical, mental or emotional) it may be all you can do to hold on and endure. But with God’s help, the time will pass. Perhaps there is some comfort to be found in the thought that when it has, and once you have allowed yourself the time to mend (and please do this) you will emerge from the dark times and not only recover but be in some ways stronger than you were before. Conversely, if you’re currently coasting along and not seeking to stretch your capabilities, you my friend, are not growing. Chances are, you’re getting weaker!

Whilst I’m not suggesting that we can go on getting physically stronger with every passing year (though most people underestimate their ability to do this even into old age, by the way) there are certainly other areas we can look to grow in. Mentally, emotionally and most importantly in our spiritual relationship with God, we can look to grow—but we need to work at it, and to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone.  Breaking out of our comfortable daily existence might require effort, sacrifice and discipline—even a certain measure of pain. But hey! Don’t worry about pain. It means… growth!

See you on Sunday!