Fitness Articles

Exercise Does Not Have to be Painful

Yoga, Pilates & Tai Chi


For a long time I thought that being in pain was part of the plan, a sign of progress. I was so used to hobbling around on achy feet, with leg muscles so sore that I couldn’t walk up and down stairs without holding on to the banister for dear life.

Pain was a persistent part of my life. Getting out of the car took at least 5 minutes. I couldn’t keep up with my 62-year-old mother on a little walk. I would push myself through races and run at least 100 miles a week training for the Olympics and the New York City marathon... even the Thanksgiving Day 10K. I ran well. I ran fast. But THE PAIN was always there. I learned to live with it.

But I have finally learned after 23 years of running that you just can’t conquer pain. You only delay the inevitable. Once the pain takes over – once you wave the white flag – all your courage, determinations, talent and tenacity will not carry you one more step.

When you drive yourself too hard, you actually drive yourself into hell. You have to pause and give yourself enough time to rest and rejuvenate, replenish and relax.

Now you can and should find some time for calmer, gentler workouts. A dynamic group of alternative fitness workouts like yoga, Pilates, and Tai chi-are now in health clubs, gyms and on home videos. Their approach to fitness emphasizes flexibility, balance and breathing. The idea is to "think" through your moves – slowly, effectively and gracefully – not just to get a better butt, but to integrate a balanced approach to fitness that helps you to relieve stress and bring more calmness to your life.

That’s great – I am all for less stress. But where is the "workout" part? I’m a runner – I’m used to intensity. Can you get an effective, enhancing body workout too? Absolutely. Here are some answers for you:

Endurance: YES
The movements involve lots of reps and holding one position for a long time. This prolonged practice will train your muscles to keep working for an extended period of time. That’s good news, but remember, those same movements will give you the same results. Consequently, it is essential that you try to vary the routine every 4-6 weeks and work on other muscles. This way you "jumpstart" or awaken other muscles and build even better results. Change is good both physically and mentally.

Strength: MAYBE
If the resistance is progressive – either with bands, weights, or body-weight resistance – than yes, you will build strength. However, most of these type routines do not involve weights that challenge your muscles to the point where they are strengthened.

Flexibility: YES
Consistent stretching of various muscles will improve your flexibility. Most of these type workouts involve very focused stretching routines with lots of breathing exercises to enhance the movements. However, the key to flexibility is consistency. Muscles need to be properly warmed up and stretched regularly to maintain and enhance a joint’s range of motion.

Most of these workouts do not provide enough exertion to get your heart rate up and therefore burn a lot of calories. So they are not the best fat burners out there. However, with any focused movement you are burning calories.

If your level of exertion is maximized, than your heart rate is up to the point where you’re building cardiovascular strength. However, let’s be honest: for the most part these type exercises do not – and in many cases should not – stress your heart to that point.

Reduce stress: ABSOLUTELY
Learning how to breathe correctly, meditating and focusing on your inner-self are all great ways to finding peace with yourself and your world.

I believe that most mind-body routines are great ways to improve overall fitness and to help you in many other areas of your life. You will notice all kinds of results. But always ask yourself the two most important questions of all: 1) Is it what you want? And most importantly: 2) Are you having fun?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Page 1 of 1  
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!

Member Comments

  • Not a lot of activity on this article - another golden oldie. I would love to find a safe exercise for myself that raises my heart rate at all let alone to cardio levels. Lots of good alternatives have been provided to the "normal" type of cardio exercise but I already adapted to those 10 years ago and need more adapting to stay even.
  • Lol, Pilates is hard when your spine is compromised! I would do yoga, but I chafe at the idea of yoga as a "workout." Barre is where it's at for me, since as I get older my balance can be a bit wonky. I do a mixed bag of core stability exercises but I can't arch my back as I used to ... or at least I shouldn't. I also got medical help for my pain, corticosteroid shots and not radiofrequency ablation.
    I don't view exercise as a weight loss tool as you would have to exercise at fairly high intensity for 1 hours or more per day for it to have any effect. Exercise for me is a wellness tool, one that will help keep disease at bay and keep my body and mind in good working order.

    **For those who are having trouble with the ads blocking the article, you can install ad blocking software onto your computer. I never see any ads of any kind. Much less busy and easier to concentrate on the content.**
  • I have lived with chronic pain for long that I can't really remember a time before pain. I think that anything we can do that decreases pain level and helps the mind or body is a good thing. For me doing movement that doesn't cause more pain allows me to be in my body more, and want to make the harder changes to make me healthier and whole.
  • I think yoga aids in weight loss but not because of calories burned....but because you feel less stressed when regularly practicing.
  • With scoliosis & now sciatica, as well as other leg/hip issues, working out is challenging.
    I've just purchased a rebounder & am loving it's gentle bouncing.. my heart rate goes up a bit and my body is becoming more toned ... without causing the pain to increase (in fact the really deep hip pain I was having seems to have gone away during these first 2 weeks).

    I'm starting a Tai Chi Chih class this week. Like Tai Chi, but only 19 moves instead of over 100.

    I have spinal stenosis and sciatica....any suggestions?
    thank you
  • I love Pilates, I think it's very challenging. It's just not high impact, so maybe that's what they mean. I've recently fallen in love with Barre3. It's very difficult, but also not high impact. So, it doesn't look like hard work, but it definitely is.
  • I agree with many of the previous posters. Even forms of yoga that are not vinyasa/flow or "power" yoga can elevate your heart rate, albeit not to the same level as more intense cardio. In terms of building strength and muscle, I am often more sore after a yoga practice in which I challenge myself than I am after, say, a bootcamp workout. And I agree - Pilates, if you're doing it correctly, is VERY challenging and much more effective in building core strength than any amount of traditional ab exercises. Yoga and pilates challenge your muscles in different ways and combinations and are excellent for building balanced, functional strength and flexibility, as well as muscular endurance. It may not burn as many calories while you are actively doing them, but they will change your body just as much, if not more, than many other forms of "calorie burning" exercise.
  • Yoga was my first love as I worked out with Lilian Folan as a kid, a catalog came to my home with the availability to purchase exercise videos, it had yoga and pilates videos inside. I ordered my first yoga video and used it to rehab after a bad ankle injury. In the spring of the same year I ordered two pilates videos - beginner and intermediate pilates. I have been hooked ever since. Now, dvds seem to make life a whole lot easier. I have a whole library of yoga and pilates dvds and vhs videos. I constantly change my workout around so I do not get board. My friends are shocked as to how I have so much neck muscle and NO double chin. The yoga and pilates does burn belly fat and tighten or condense your core muscles while building your arms, back, chest, shoulders and neck. Of course, your muscles are condensed not bulky like weight lifters arms. I am going to be 57yrs old this yr. and am I ever glad I enjoy these workouts. I do incorporate bands, weighted pilate balls and the ring into my workouts. I have a video that even involves light weights for toning of the arms. No limits. If I want to do cardio, I ride my mountain bike or power walk. No stopping this girl!!!
  • I agree with the others, pilates is hard, sometimes I have to stop and start again, its not a quick fix... no way
  • You can't even close the ads because the "x" has an overlapped opener to the links for the ads.Those are really obnoxious and take away the fun of reading your interesting articles.
    The ads want to force you to be their captive audience. If they could get themselves inside your eyes, they certainly would.
    I stopped reading many of your great articles because of the obnoxiousness of the ads.
    Would love to read the article but can't because of the Celebrex ad, as so many people have pointed out.
    Get rid of the Celebrex ad! Why bother posting the article if no one can read it????

About The Author

Julie Isphording Julie Isphording
Julie, a former Olympic marathon runner, is an author, radio host and fitness expert.

x Lose 10 Pounds by May 7! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.