098. The Path to Pain-Free Fitness with Mariah Heller

The Do a Day Podcast from Bryan Falchuk

Mariah Heller is a professional trainer, gym co-founder, author, speaker, certified massage therapist, and creator of the corporate wellness company “Pain-Free Fitness”. After spending eight years in the fitness industry and serving many clients with chronic pain, Mariah realized that the industry was failing in a vital way: there were no solutions for the busy professional who simply didn’t have the time or resources to spend on lengthy classes or expensive personal trainers. Mariah created Pain-Free Fitness’ 10-minute system to provide a simple, effective, and customizable path toward a stronger and more pain-free body. As a featured author on T-Nation and Breaking Muscle and a speaker at UC Davis’ entrepreneurship academy, Mariah’s audiences have spanned further than she ever imagined. Mariah’s mission is to give everyone the tools to live a more pain-free and healthy life with simple daily 10-minute routines.”

She shares her story of why “pain free” is so important to her personally, and she leaves us with advice and guidance to make fitness about being better, not punishing ourselves or living with the aftermath of it rather than the benefits.

Key Points from the Episode with Mariah Heller:
  • Mariah runs a company called Pain Free Fitness, which tries to bring a reasonable mindset to an extreme industry.
  • Her focus is for people who want to be healthy in a sustainable way without being extreme.
  • Mariah had been a martial artist and then a singer and dancer, so movement and fitness were always part of her story.
  • On the back of experiences that were really unacceptable and unhealthy, and the expectations put on her as a young woman, she left the show business industry.
  • As a backlash to that experience, she ended up putting on weight due to the emotional stress and its fallout.
  • She had developed an eating disorder, and was working past that and using CrossFit to get her body to a good place.
  • In the process, she started to have extreme hip pain, and, because she was young, doctors just told her to rest and she’d be fine.
  • After taking months off and the pain still being there, she ended up having to have her hip reconstructed, which included a 9-month recovery period.
  • The surgery and recovery forced her to stop her go-go-go style, and that allowed her body to recover, even out hormone levels, etc.
  • One day, a physical therapist friend noticed that she was hyper-mobile, which explains why she was such a good dancer and Olympic lifter. It also can explain the pain she was experiencing.
  • She started to look into it more, and found that she has something called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
  • It is where the body has more elastin than normal, allowing you to move more than others might without having pain.
  • While that can sound good, it means that you put yourself into positions where you are doing damage, but don’t have the pain signal to stop doing it, so you can injure your body more easily than if pain was telling you to stop.
  • We talked about the way fitness transformation intertwines with our self-identity, which becomes hard to let go of if you have to stop due to injury or for other reasons.
  • It’s almost like you are mourning the loss of that part of your identity.
  • As Mariah sees it, we do not need this big mental strain around fitness or damage your body to make progress, but rather know your Why and see if what you’re doing aligns with that.
  • People often go into working with Mariah to get to a former version of what they were.
  • But that’s not really what we need. We need to find the right place for our bodies in our current situation and with our current goals.
  • Her work with Pain Free Fitness felt like a calling, and that she was on borrowed time physically and had to make the most of it.
  • This was informed by her own pain journey, and also growing up with a sister who has been paralyzed since her late-teens. It gave Mariah a sense of purpose and drive to make the most of what she has.
  • Being in pain is part of Mariah’s normal, and doesn’t freak her out.
  • She is in a state of radical acceptance of where she is with pain.
  • When it had first started, she certainly was not in that place, mentally, and went through a period of feeling a loss but also determination to get through it.
  • Whether we “get back to where we were” or are ok – whether that’s about fitness, pain or what we are all going through right now with COVID-19 – Mariah knows no one will look back on any of that and wish they worried more, so she tries to make the most of what we do have.
  • Mariah talked about a trauma background, and how it can result in our brain creating chaos when there’s empty space.
  • She has learned not to create chaos around her pain, and is working on doing the same thing with other themes in her life.
  • Pain, for her, is not situational but constant. She finds herself pushing off other sources of anxiety as situational in that they will pass.
  • No matter what place you’re in with pain or your physical health, try to do something every day. Try to achieve something so you can feel a win every day.
  • And share it – acknowledging it for yourself is huge, and sharing it with another person is 10 times more powerful.
  • That depends on having the right people around you, of course, whether that’s about negativity, judgment or questioning you.
  • Slowing down is not popular in the fitness community, so be aware of that.
  • You also need to be aware of the line between complacency and appropriate levels of pacing.
  • There’s a common misconception in the fitness world that anyone who is fit is just naturally self-motivated.
  • That’s not Mariah. She has to manufacture motivation to get into that space.
  • She calls on discipline quite often, tapping into her martial arts background.
  • You can’t wait to feel better before you do something. Mariah knows this because she faces daily pain, so waiting until she doesn’t hurt may mean waiting her whole life.
  • The key is to find a way to do something despite what you face.
  • The starting point Mariah always recommends is to find a practitioner who is willing to get to the root of things for you and design a path forward. Don’t be afraid to try more than one.
  • And many of the practitioners now offer virtual options, including Mariah with Pain Free Fitness and a PT she often partners with (named Christine Koth)
  • If a practitioner is talking more than listening or projecting their goals onto you, those are signs that they are not likely to be the best fit for your needs.
  • Second, is recognizing that healing is not a straight line. It goes all over the place, spins around, etc. If you don’t realize that, you can find yourself discouraged.
  • Mariah left us with a bit of inspiration – even if your pain does not go away, you are going to be fine.


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