Posted by: Brad Nixon | July 16, 2017

The Joy of Pain

You know one: an exercise geek.

Their workout routines and the progress of their strength, speed or endurance — related in excruciating detail — dominate their conversation. You make every attempt to stick to safe subjects like politics or religion, but, inevitably, you end up hearing a blow-by-blow narrative of their latest killer ab crunch or the dy-no-mite new series of inverted hanging military presses they’ve discovered. You sidle away, explaining that you’re in a hurry, on your way to the Kazakhstan Consulate to pick up your visa to hike the Silk Road, and that you’ll see them when you get back in 18 months or so … if you survive.

Heaven forbid that you encounter them limping toward you. Run away.

They’ve blown out their knee, torn a rotator cuff or ruptured an Achilles tendon. If you give them an opening, not only will you learn exactly how they incurred it, but why: improper form executing the forward one-and-a-half dismount from their balance beam practice, overstriding while running the curve during their 800-meter speed intervals or prematurely moving up from 200 to 220 pounds on the bicep curl.

If they stopped there, it might not be too bad. You could express sympathy, wish them well in their recovery, and hustle off, perhaps even thinking this might tamp down their focus on workouts for a few weeks while they heal so you could chat about other things.

But there are no days off in Workout Obsession World. There are underlying causes to consider, and you’re going to hear about them. These range from overtraining (they only rested an hour between running 20 miles and putting in 2 hours free-climbing the gym’s vertical wall), an electrolyte imbalance (they knew they should be getting more hydromorphic diethylene citrate in their diet!) or something equally involved, requiring exhaustive explication.

Only with injury does the real fun — the absolute joy of pain — of working out begin for these lost souls. If exercise and all its attendant details is an obsession, recovery is a religion magnified to cult status.

They have a plan, a program. Whether it takes weeks or months — the more extreme, one way or the other, the better — they’ll be back, better than ever, and you’re going to hear a day-by-day outline: the stretching; application of cold, pressure and heat; progressively shorter periods of rest and concomitantly longer stints of easy, then moderate and finally strenuous activity, applied with the single-minded passion of a physicist measuring the electronic discharge from sub-atomic particles moving at the speed of light in the Hadron Collider.

But wait, that’s not all! There’s the task of describing, analyzing and categorizing the pain itself.

I don’t know any other languages well enough to compare them, but in English, we possess a vast word hoard of pain descriptors. They include tender, stinging, throbbing, pulsing, aching, dull, sharp, searing, to name only a sample of the single words. Once we expand our list to include multiple word phrases, there’s a veritable encyclopedia of agony. Even better, as the injury either heals or (OMG) worsens, the descriptors change, and what was a searing pain subsides to an ache, then soreness, in endless procession. You’ll know exactly what stage they’re in, where they started, and what’s next.

The true devotee will have not only their own testimony, but draw citations from a rich literature of physiological research studies, websites, newsletters and podcasts to quote to you about the incidence, causes, prognosis, treatment, recovery and future avoidance of their injury.

So, did I tell you about how I pulled my calf muscle today at the Torrance South track? Really, this’ll just take a minute. There I was, a few miles into my run, with only a couple more to do ….

IMG_3353 wide track

Where’d everybody go?

© Brad Nixon 2017


  1. I’m lucky. Most of the people at my gym don’t exercise (and certainly aren’t going to bother me with what they have NOT done). Instead, they sit on the exercise machines and play with their iphones. 🙁

    Actually, I wish they would go to the lounge area for this so that I could exercise; but then they wouldn’t be able to brag to others not at the gym about how much time they spent on the machines. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

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