Tough Workouts: Train Your Brain to Take the Pain


It’s no secret I have a different relationship with pain than the average person—I embrace it with my mantra, “Shut up, legs!” After years of training at an elite level, I’ve learned to see the benefits that come from suffering through a tough workout. Pain is not your enemy—quite the opposite, and if you stop resisting it, you will become stronger physically and mentally. Here’s how to train your brain to start thinking about pain in a more positive light.

Pain Can Be a Good Thing

Pain is inevitable when your physical improvement is your goal. Apart from a stroll in the park, every single sports exercise—weight lifting, yoga, pilates, running, swimming, cycling, and more—involves some sort of pain. And that’s a good thing. It’s a signal that something is happening in your body, your muscles are being pushed to their limit and learning to go beyond. No, the feeling that comes along with the muscle breakdown-and-repair cycle isn’t exactly comfortable, but when you think about it, it really is tolerable. And you should learn to love it, or at least accept it.

Pain Means You’re Alive

If you’re feeling something, it’s a sign you’re doing it right. A tough workout, one that really challenges you, helps you grow as an athlete—even if you never plan to win a race, getting to that next level of performance is a sign of good health. In fact, the absence of pain, or numbness, would be worse—it would be an indication that your muscles and nervous system weren’t working properly.

Pain Makes You Stronger

There’s a phrase that gets tossed around a lot, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” And I fully agree with it. Hell yeah, the more pain you put yourself through, the more weakness you squeeze out of your muscles. Of course this is not scientifically proven, but it’s a good way to wrap your head around what’s happening during an intense training session or workout.

Pain is Motivating

Pain makes you human. And when you think about it, pain puts you on the same level as all the other humans cycling with you. During a tough climb, you know they are feeling what you are feeling. You can use that to push yourself harder, by thinking things like:

“If they’re doing it, I can do it!”
“There’s no way they can drop me when they’re feeling this much pain, too.”
“If this hurts me, then it must hurt the others at least twice as much.”
“They’re gonna slow down soon. I can hang with the pain a little longer.”

Pain is Team Building

Nothing solidifies a friendship quite like experiencing hardship together. Suffering during a tough training session or competition is exactly that. Which explains why group training is so effective—you use that pain as a team to motivate and push each other. If you haven’t already, find a workout partner or a friendly group of cyclists to ride with, so you can share in each other’s triumphs and defeats. And commiserate over all the gory details of your pain.


Who’s ready to suffer and say “Shut up, legs!” with me? Join the conversation below.

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