Reset your brain and body for a pain-free life.

Joe Tatta, PT, DPT


Answers to the 7 Most Puzzling Questions About How to Exercise When It Hurts

You’ve heard it from your practitioner, TV, and the Internet, that exercise can improve your quality of life and even decrease your pain, but where do you begin? There may be numerous questions buzzing through your mind such as:

How much should I exercise?
What kind of exercise should I do?
Why is exercise sometimes painful?
How do I make exercising a habit?
Do I need special equipment to exercise?
What to do if I begin to feel pain while exercising?
How can I make time to exercise?

You’ve probably searched through numerous articles and maybe even bought various workout programs and still have not been able to find the answers to your questions. Fortunately, reaping the benefits of exercise isn’t as complicated as you might think, and by the end of this article, you will have a clear understanding of how you can create an exercise regimen that fits perfectly into your lifestyle…even if you have pain.


Question #1: What Do You Do When Pain Arises During Exercise?

This is the most popular question those with pain have when they begin to move or exercise. Fear and avoidance of movement and activity are completely normal.

Learning about the benefits of exercise is one of the fastest ways to increase your confidence about movement and transition from avoidance to acceptance. If you’re new to exercise, you may notice a few sensations that you aren’t accustomed. Don’t let these sensations scare you; they are a normal and necessary part of exercise.

Fear and avoidance of movement and activity are completely normal. Click To Tweet

“Pain” is a subjective term and its presence during exercise does not always indicate harm (5). The normal sensations felt during exercise can be considered “safe pain” while the pain that is felt from a broken bone, torn muscle, or torn ligament would be considered “unsafe pain.”

Here is a guide that can help you distinguish what level of pain you are experiencing during exercise and what you should do about it:

GREEN:  Be confident to add more activity! Add 1-5% more activity per day/session to help increase function. Considered to be SAFE PAIN.

YELLOW: You have done too much too fast and need to slow up a little. Give yourself a little more time to rest and recover. Continue normal activities and new activities. Fill your mind with positive thoughts, and avoid any negative thoughts, words or images. Considered to be SAFE PAIN.

RED: Stop activity and seek medical advice from an integrative care practitioner. Considered to be UNSAFE PAIN.


Question #2: How Much Exercise is Enough?

There is no magic amount of exercise and this varies from person to person. If you look at the figure below, it displays the amount of exercise the American Heart Association recommends for maintaining health (1).




While these parameters are helpful for setting goals, they are general in nature and can be altered to accommodate your individual needs, comfort, and physical ability.

It’s best to find a starting point where you are comfortable and gradually increase. If your goal is to achieve 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per day, start with 15 minutes 5 days per week and add an extra 5 minutes each week until you reach 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day.

There is no magic amount of exercise and this varies from person to person. Click To Tweet

You can also break up your exercise sessions throughout the day. Let’s say you plan to walk at a brisk pace for 30 minutes but notice that 15 minutes into your exercise session fatigue becomes a challenge. You could either decrease the pace or take a break and continue for the remaining 15 minutes. Or you could end the session and return later in the day to walk for another 15 minutes. Your goal is to work your way up to 30 minutes without any breaks.

It is normal to feel a little better on some days than others. Don’t be disappointed if you aren’t able to do as much one day as you did the day before. Rest up and be ready to give it your best the next session.

Here are some examples of what your weekly routine could look like:

Moderate Exercise Routine
Mon. 30 minutes of brisk walking
Tue. 30 minutes of bike riding
Wed. 30 minutes of swimming
Thur. 30 minutes of rowing
Fri. 30 minutes of yoga


Pick your favorite or mix them up.

Mixture of Intermediate and High-Intensity Exercise
Mon. 25-minute jog
Tue. 15 minute HIIT circuit
Wed. 25 minutes of Pilates
Thur. 15 minute HIIT circuit
Fri. 30-minute yoga workout


Question #3: What Kind of Exercise Is Best?

The forms of exercise you choose will depend on your goals. If you have pain in certain areas of your body such as low back pain or sciatica, you will want to integrate therapeutic exercises into your daily routine to strengthen or mobilize these areas for healing and injury prevention. These are simple and really shouldn’t hurt.

If you are trying to lose weight, any form of consistent exercise that elevates your heart rate and builds strength will help you achieve results depending on the intensity of the exercise and the quality of your nutrition.

Here is a checklist to help you choose the right exercise for you:

  • Do I enjoy the exercise?
  • Is the exercise compatible with my skill level?
  • Can I easily integrate this exercise into my routine?
  • Does this exercise help improve my strength and endurance?
  • Will this exercise help me achieve my goals?

Here is a table describing some beginner, intermediate, and advanced exercises that are excellent to incorporate into your exercise program for alleviating pain and building a strong, balanced body.

Beginner Intermediate Advanced
Walking Jogging Sprinting
Bike Riding Pilates High-Intensity Interval Training
Rowing Yoga Weight Lifting
Swimming Therapeutic Exercise Complex Bodyweight Movements
Dancing Simple Bodyweight Movements Playing Sports


Question #4: How Can Exercise Be Painless?

Exercise-related pain is often caused by too much too soon. There is such a thing as too much exercise or progressing through a program too aggressively. Start with exercises that are simple, moving through them slowly and focus on executing them with relatively good form. Making a mind-body connection while you exercise can prevent you from creating injury by giving you complete control of where your body is in space.

You might be tempted to push yourself to the max, but it is safer to ease into an exercise session. You wouldn’t want to take off into a sprint right when you wake up in the morning. Take 10-minutes to warm up before each session and create a starting point that is easy for you to accomplish. For example, if you are about to go for a jog, you may want to take a few minutes to briskly walk and gradually increase the tempo as your body begins to loosen up. Warming up allows the synovial fluid of your joints to become more fluid and increases its ability to lubricate your joints to prevent injury and increase efficiency (2). A proper warm-up also allows blood to perfuse all your tissues and deliver vital nutrients to muscles.

Question #5: How To Make Exercise A Habit?

Is it possible to become addicted to exercise? While exercise is not as addictive as a drug, it does release endorphins that will lay down memories and make you want to return to it more often (3). The hardest part is getting started. Here is the step-by-step process for making exercise a habit:

  • Set aside a specific time of each day to exercise and stick with it.
  • Engage in exercise you enjoy, and make your workouts achievable.
  • Don’t put too much on your plate. Do exercises you are comfortable with.
  • Have your clothes, equipment, workout, smoothies, etc. ready ahead of time.
  • Grab a workout partner (friend or family member) to hold you accountable.
  • Engage in 21 consecutive exercise sessions. Once you hit 21, you won’t want to miss a workout.
  • Hire an exercise professional to assist you and hold you accountable.

If you follow these steps, you will arrive at a place where you feel like something is missing from your day or week if you don’t exercise. Once you push through the first 21 days, you will have created lasting and beneficial habits for alleviating your pain (4).

Exercise equipment is only as good as the person who is using it. Click To Tweet



Question #6: Do You Need Exercise Equipment?

Exercise equipment is only as good as the person who is using it. Having the fanciest and most expensive exercise equipment doesn’t guarantee better results. The best exercise equipment includes items that you already possess and are readily available. Here are some examples of some everyday items that can be repurposed as exercise equipment:

  • Water/Milk Jugs (Fill with water, sand, or dirt to make dumbbells)
  • Stairs (Calf raises, Stepping box, Walking)
  • Chairs (Stepping box, Chair Squats, Chair Push-ups)
  • Laundry detergent bottles (Fill with water, sand, or dirt to make dumbbells)
  • Wall (Wall Squats, and Wall Push-ups)
  • Door Frame (Push each side for isometric strengthening)
  • Broom (Twist to each side to strengthen the core)
  • Water Bottles (Fill with water, sand, or dirt to make dumbbells)

exerciseIf you aren’t keen on the idea of joining a nearby gym, exercising in your home is just as beneficial. There is no need in trying to transform the spare bedroom into a gym; just get creative and keep your routine simple.

While exercise equipment can be useful for adding to the variety, intensity, and convenience of your exercise routine, not everyone has space, money, or experience. Here are some forms of exercise that require minimal amounts of equipment and space:

  • Light Bodyweight Movements (Lunges, Squats, Step-Ups)
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Gait Training (walking, jogging, sprinting)
  • Swimming (if you have a pool)
  • Dancing
  • Tai Chi

Question #7: How Long Does It Take to See Results From Exercise?

The length of time it takes for you to notice a difference depends on factors such as:

  • Your initial state of health (The amount of time it takes to reach a certain point depends on where you begin.)
  • How consistent you are (Sticking to a routine will keep from delaying your results.)
  • Your mindset (Your mood affects your ability to recover and stay motivated) (6).
  • The quality (Exercising incorrectly hinders results.)
  • Nutrition  (You can’t outrun a poor diet. Good nutrition optimized post-workout recovery and the healing process. (7).

There are some benefits you may experience immediately following exercise such as:

  • Increased Energy
  • Heightened Mood
  • Decreased Pain
  • Improved Range of Motion
  • Increased Circulation

Other benefits gradually build up over time and can take anywhere from a few months to a little over a year to start noticing large improvements such as:

  • Weight Loss
  • Increased Strength
  • Improved Flexibility
  • Pain Relief
  • Lowered Blood Pressure
  • Increased Muscle Mass
  • Increased Bone Density
  • Improved Cardiovascular Health
  • Improved Stamina

The key to obtaining the results you want is to make steady progress over time. Slow and steady wins the race. If you stay consistent, focused, and optimistic while working towards your exercise goal, you will notice the positive effects on your health.


Remember, reversing pain requires an integrated approach.

If you need help to better understand what to eat, how to move, or how your thoughts and emotions affect your pain, I hope you’ll consider attending my Free Webinar on Healing Pain Naturally.

You’ll learn how to use the power of your mind to heal; as well how nutrition and gentle movement can reverse your pain. Does this sound like something you need?

This webinar will provide you with the info to change your life, almost immediately.

Sign-up for the free webinar here (I’ll email you a recording, too!)

Dr. Joe TattaAnswers to the 7 Most Puzzling Questions About How to Exercise When It Hurts
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