When the pain comes, do you step on the brakes or do you step on the gas?
Sometimes, high intensity training sucks.
I’m the first to admit the fact that it is definitely not one of the most enjoyable forms of exercise.
For the majority of the time, you are in a miserable state. Your muscles are aching, trembling or cramping up from fatigue. Your skin is wet, clammy and stinking from your sweat. And your mind can’t seem to shut up – a constant barrage of negative rhetoric trying to get you to stop doing an activity which seems completely deranged.
Kinda sounds like torture, doesn’t it?
In a way, it is like torture – self-inflicted torture. It’s almost perverse in a sense as one has to be a masochist to engage in this type of activity. Don’t worry, I’m not about to make any references to Fifty Shades of Grey at this point, but there is something strange going on if we not only subject ourselves to this amount of torture voluntarily, but also come back week after week to do it over again.
You may call me crazy for linking pain and pleasure together, but there is some scientific evidence for this idea. Warning – nerd alert!
During the exposure of pleasure or pain, the same parts of the brain light up: nucleus accumbens, amygdala, and the pallidum. You may have heard me talk about the nucleus accumbens before as it is responsible for the reward centre of the brain. This is where pleasure is felt, whether from endorphins, exercise, taking recreational drugs like cocaine or even from a sugar high from eating junk food.
In a way, it is like torture – self-inflicted torture.
What’s even more complicated but fascinating is a theory called the Motivation-decision model that explains from an evolutionary perspective, that in order for us to choose the best decision for survival, we sometimes have to choose to endure pain. So we have evolved this link between pain and pleasure to help us tolerate more pain. By making the sensation pleasurable, it is in fact a form of pain relief.
Now isn’t this starting to sound a little more familiar? Especially, with regards to my high intensity training? We voluntarily sign up and pay money to attend my class knowing very well how much pain we will experience. But we do so knowing that it will have a positive impact to our survival (a healthier, fitter version of ourselves). During the class, the pain is excruciating, but peppered through out the class are small doses of pleasure in the form of pain relief called breaks. The biggest reward of all is at the end when the class concludes.
The really cool part of this is the harder you push yourself, the more painful it gets. But the more painful it is, the more pleasure you will get when you stop.
It’s both sick and beautiful in its design.
So the next time you are in the middle of a super-slow squat and you’re battling it out in your quads as they are burning from the lactate (actually hydrogen ions!), and in your heads when your amygdala is telling you to stop, will you ease off and break form to give yourself some slack, or will you dig deep and maintain strict form knowing the light at the end of the tunnel will be that much brighter if you embrace the pain?
When the pain comes, will you step on the brakes or will you step on the gas?