The Unglamorous Problems of Exercise (And How to Fix Them)

Most of the time, athletes and gym-goers are depicted in their best light: strong, lean and perhaps, overly enthusiastic.

You know that stock photo of a runner jogging into the sunset or the one where weightlifters lovingly gaze at their kettlebells. We’ve all seen these photos plastered on the gym wall. For the most part, they’re great. I’m all for anything that promotes exercise, even if it can get a little cheesy.

But in reality, exercising isn’t always sexy. From bloody nipples to tummy troubles, here are three weird, gross and surprising side-effects of getting your sweat on and how you can remedy them.

The problem: Chafing

Whether you thought jeans were appropriate hiking apparel or you went the gym wearing your favorite cotton tee, you’ve most likely suffered the very real consequences of chafing. When clothing, or even skin-on-skin, exceedingly rubs against your chest, armpits, thighs or groin, it causes a painful burn-like rash. In severe cases, the friction can be so rough that it creates a fissure on the skin, causing sensitive areas, such as nipples, to bleed. Cotton-wearers, particularly salty-sweaters and those who don’t frequent their shower are more susceptible to chafing.

But no one is immune to the danger of skin rubbing on skin.

The Solution: The most obvious anti-chafe solution is to simply stop working out in the cotton T-shirt and to slap a band-aid over your nipples before your 5k (not you ladies, your sports bra should do the trick!) But my favorite advice is to lube up before exercise! Slathering skin with products such as Vaseline, Body Glide or Squirrels Nut Butter before hitting the gym will grease up areas prone to chafing and eliminate some friction.

The problem: Tummy Troubles

I’m no stranger to the emergency potty stop mid-run, and if you’re a fellow long-distance runner, chances are neither are you. Having to use the bathroom mid-run, particularly to defecate, can take you back to days on the playground when the potty was just a little too far away, and the grumbling tummy was a little too dire. When else in life has the search for a toilet been so frantic?

It’s a real concern to be running in a public place without bathrooms or bushes and to all of a sudden have to poop. So what can we do?

The solution: Exercise physiologist Scott Weiss says mid-workout emergency bathroom breaks happen when exercise increases the activity in your intestines. All that jostling loosens things up a tad too much. On top of that, your body diverts energy to your legs to keep you moving, leaving them with less blood flow and less control. There are no easy solutions to runners’ trots, and the fix tends to vary from person to person.

If you have a weak stomach and are more susceptible to GI issues, it may be harder to prevent. But there are still things that can help, like sticking to pre-workout foods that are low in fiber. My best advice is to devise your workout so that it goes through public places with restrooms. However, if you have to do your business in the woods or behind a bush, be sure to do so responsibly. Dig a hole, find a big rock and pack it out.

The problem: Snot

No matter the climate or time of year, my workout is guaranteed to come with a face full of snot. Having a runny nose, a hacking cough or a sore throat during and after exercise isn’t uncommon, especially in the colder months. Cold air can constrict airway and nasal passages, and dry air or dusty environments irritates the lungs and sinuses. Cold-like symptoms aren’t limited to outdoor workouts either. Indoors environments like a dusty gym with dry air can cause chest tightening, coughing and sinus discomfort.

The solution: To help prevent sore throats and an exercise-induced cough, stash a bag of cough drops in your gym bag before heading to the gym. For that runny nose, a piece of fabric to cover the lower half of the face can help to trap the humidity in the air entering the nose, which will minimize irritation. A face fabric, such as a Buff, is also a sneaky way to wipe that face snot away. Otherwise, master the snot rocket: the cleanest and easiest way to clear out the nasal passages during exercise.