Written by Jamie Bantleman / Personal Trainer
What is pain in the gym?
How do you define ‘pain in the gym’? Of course, the correct training technique, programming and form are all important factors to avoid injuries in the gym, however often we discuss pain in the same breath as lactic acid build up causing muscle discomforts. There are also moments of pain when our muscles go into cramp and it stops us from doing anything productive or even anything at all if you are left in a heap on the floor!
Lactic acid build up and what to do to help
The build up in lactic acid in the muscle cell is created by a limited level of oxygen going to the muscle cell due to the demand of high exertion in energy through a high volume workout. The working muscles generate energy anaerobically. This energy comes from glucose through a process called glycolysis, in which glucose is broken down or metabolised into a substance called pyruvate through a series of steps. When the body has plenty of oxygen, pyruvate is shuttled to an aerobic pathway to be further broken down for more energy. But when oxygen is limited, the body temporarily converts pyruvate into a substance called lactate, which allows glucose breakdown–and thus energy production–to continue. The working muscle cells can continue this type of anaerobic energy production at high rates for one to three minutes, during which time lactate can accumulate to high levels. (1)
To avoid immediate build up in lactic acid you should look to keep levels of glycogen high enough to be able to maintain a high volume workout. Carb loading or carb backloading the night before of a workout or event is often the preferred choice for many people when looking to increase glycogen stores.
Carb loading is simply an increased amount of carbohydrates in the diet, such as brown rice, potato, sweet potato, fruit, oat/rice cakes or quinoa. Carb backloading is very similar in terms of an increased carb intake in the evening, however during the day, the body is ran on protein and fats only, very much like the Ketogenic diet.
Furthermore, repeating high volume workouts will slowly allow the body to adapt to the training and therefore the tolerance to lactic acid build up will improve.
Cramps are caused by muscle spasms, involuntary contractions of one or more muscles. In addition to the foot and calf muscles, other muscles prone to spasms include the front and back of the thigh, the hands, arms, abdomen and muscles along the ribcage.
Almost everyone experiences muscle cramps which comes without warning. Muscle cramps can have many possible causes.
- Exercising in the heat
- Muscle fatigue
- Magnesium and/or potassium deficiency
- Calcium deficiency
Avoiding cramps should be a priority when preparing to workout as simple tips will also make for a much better workout.
Take home message
To avoid pain in the gym and increase your tolerance to lactic acid and cramps you should re-assess your diet, ensure your macronutrients are correct and your body is hydrated. When we do not have the correct minerals, nutrients and vitamins in our bodies we will find that we do not work at an optimal rate and our performance in the gym suffers.