You’re on your tenth set of burpees and your legs are burning, your face is beetroot red and you’re pretty sure you’re about to spew. But you feel weirdly...good. Turns out, there’s a scientific reason it feels good to push yourself during an intense workout—and it’s not just the endorphins or a masochistic streak.
New research from the University of Cardiff revealed why working out until it hurts can be enjoyable. It has to do with how we spend most of our time when we’re not at the gym: sitting on our butts doing not much at all (unless you have a chic standing desk, that is). You see, our bodies get so used to feeling so ‘meh’ all the time, that it can actually be pleasurable to see what it feels like to push your body to its limits.
“Pain renders the body especially difficult to ignore,” the study reads. “Pain brings the body into sharp focus, allowing individuals to rediscover [it].” It’s for this reason that extreme sports like ultramarathons and obstacle races are more popular in areas filled with office workers, and not so much in places where people are doing hard labour.
The study also delves into another reason we find pleasure in workout pain: escapism. “Pain enables a temporary erasure of the self,” the study reads. “When flooding individuals with unpleasantness, pain momentarily erases the burdens of identity and facilitates a distinctive type of escape.”
So, if you’ve ever wondered halfway through a gym session why the hell you put yourself through it when you’re well aware it’s going to hurt—now you know. That said, it IS possible to push too far past the point of pain during exercise. Check out these 5 signs you’re pushing yourself too hard during your workouts.