While we are long over the concept of “No pain – No gain”, there are a lot of athletes who aren’t achieving maximal performance or making the progress that they need to because they don’t fully understand the difference between pain and discomfort. Pain is your body’s way of letting us know that there is a problem happening or will happen soon. It’s usually associated with a sudden, sharp, shooting or aching in the muscles, bones or joints. Pain can lead to serious injury if ignored. Exercise should not cause pain. If it does, you should back off, stop and see a trainer and/or strength and conditioning coach.
Discomfort, on the other hand, is an indication that your workouts are working – that you are improving strength, speed, power, endurance, flexibility, etc. The discomfort of muscle fatigue is common after lifting weights or after a hard run. It’s usually located in the muscles or lungs and appears as a burning sensation.
“Pain is something to avoid; discomfort is something to accept”. Top performing, elite athletes have learned to bear the discomfort and avoid the pain. There is a fine line between the two. Recognize the difference and push through the discomfort. If you stop every time you become uncomfortable, you will never work hard enough or long enough to make improvements and achieve your goals. Once you accept this and get on with what you need to do, you can start to make real progress. Great athletes have a high tolerance for physical discomfort.
You have probably heard the saying, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Nolan Ryan believed that you should never lose because the opposition was better prepared that you are. His goal between starts was to prepare to pitch 11 innings should the game be tied after 9. He wanted to finish what he started. Remember, luck is the result of hard, directed work. Luck might find a guy working out in the gym or running in the outfield, but it will never fall out of the sky and land on a guy sitting in a chair playing video games.
Roger Clemens’ workouts were legendary. They were so tough that he called them his “Seal Program.” The workouts were designed to give him an opportunity to consider quitting, but he never quit during a workout. His philosophy was that if he had the fortitude to finish the workouts, quitting would never enter his mind when things got tough in the game. The routine gave him something to fall back on when things started to go wrong on the mound. “Five and dive” was never an option.
Cal Ripken, Jr. is another example of an outstanding player with an extremely high tolerance for discomfort. How else can you explain how he played 8,243 consecutive innings in 2,632 back-to-back games? He said that along the way he encountered a number of former teammates who said “I wish I had worked harder or had taken better care of my body. I didn’t want to have any regrets. We all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”
Take charge of your career. Don’t let discomfort or complacency cloud your judgement. Get off the couch, turn off your cell phone and go to work. Work through the discomfort, elevate your game and avoid the pain of regret. Find a program that works for you and do it. Be consistent. Don’t get caught up in fads or jump from exercise to exercise or program to program. Separate the nice to do from the need to do. Do what works. Cover all the bases – foam roll, warm-up, flexibility, core, strength, endurance, power, speed, work capacity, aerobics, cool down and recovery. You don’t have to do everything every day. If your workouts are taking more than 30-40 minutes per day, you are spending too much time in the weight room and trying to do too much.
Separate your workouts and do something different each day. Foam roll, warm-up, cool down and recover every day. This should not take more than 10 minutes. If it’s taking you 20 minutes to foam roll, you are rolling too much. Your goal is to lengthen the muscles, break up adhesions and scar tissue and improve muscle function, not turn your body into Kobe beef. More is not better. Given the nature of the game, length of the season, travel, etc., you are not going to feel great every day of the season. Strive to feel better. Great is seldom an option and more foam rolling is never the solution.
Divide your strength workouts. Do upper body one day and lower body the next, or push one day and pull the other. You can also do heavy, light and moderate workouts on different days or strength, endurance and power workouts on different days. Strength can be maintained with three good workouts per week. Divide your metabolic workouts into days of speed, work capacity and aerobics. Recover, cool down, foam roll, eat, rehydrate and sleep after games to prepare your body for tomorrow’s activity. Do something before and after every game to make you better prepared for what tomorrow has to offer. Remember workouts stimulate growth and growth occurs between workouts during recovery. Work and rest are both important and neither is beneficial without the other.
Pete Rose was often quoted as saying “Effort is the only part of baseball that requires no skill.”
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC-E, FACSM, was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake. Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC is the Head S&C Coach for the Texas Rangers.