No Pain, No Gain: When Exercise Hurts
It happens every January, and at just about this mid-point in the month. People eat too much during the holidays. New Year’s rolled around, and they resolved to join a gym, start exercising, and eat better. Do you know how long the average “join the gym and get fit” decree lasts? One month.
By February, 80% of the eager exercisers who stormed through the front doors of their local gyms on January 2 have already abandoned their routines.
Sometimes people lose the motivation and willpower to drag themselves to the gym.
Some pain when you exercise can be normal. However, there are limits to how much pain is normal or healthy. So take care, because ignoring the warning signs that you’re pushing your body too hard can cause lasting damage.
In this article we explore the no pain, no gain mentality by answering the following questions:
- Why does exercise hurt?
- When is exercise pain normal?
- Should you still work out when you’re sore or in pain?
- What are some ways to prevent soreness?
- What are some natural pain relievers for workout discomfort?
We’ve all heard the mantra: no pain, no gain. Extreme athletes shout it out to justify pushing themselves beyond their limits (then wonder why everything hurts the next day). What about for the rest of us? Why does a tough workout lead to such muscle soreness or even pain?
There is more than one answer to that question.
- You’re doing it wrong. The number-one reason exercise hurts is that – you guessed it – you’re doing it wrong. There’s a lot of different equipment in the gym. Some of it is intuitive while others may require the expertise of a personal trainer to help you use it safely. If you’ve decided to join a gym or try a new physical activity, hire a professional to help you get started to ensure you’re not doing it wrong and increasing your chances of injury.
- You’re doing it too often. Some forms of exercise, like weight training, shouldn’t be done every day, especially if you’re exercising the same muscle groups day after day. Overtraining leads to muscle fatigue, which can lead to injury. When it comes to exercise, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. If you overdo it, you increase the likelihood you’re going to get hurt.
- You’re ignoring pre-existing pain. Ever heard that ‘pushing through the pain’ is a good thing? In fact, that notion is bunk. If you’re already experiencing pain in your body, the last thing you should do is aggravate a potential injury by working out. Now, there are some exceptions to this rule. For instance, if you suffer from arthritis, your joints might feel stiff and achy all the time. Exercising can improve your symptoms. But that’s not the case with every ache or pain. Continuing to exercise with a pulled muscle can make your pain worse and cause other debilitating symptoms.
Some pain during or after exercise can be normal. Let’s say your friend, Peggy, talks you into taking a kickboxing class with her. It’s been a while since you exercised, let alone at such a high intensity. You kick and punch your way through class, feeling amazing.
The next day, you can hardly move. While it can be alarming, it’s totally normal to have post-workout pain if you’re trying a new activity or exercising again for the first time in a long time.
Listening to your body can help you determine what kind of exercise pain you’re experiencing and whether it’s normal or a cause for alarm. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a normal reaction to any intense or new exercise. If the discomfort lasts more than 48 hours, you may want to consult your doctor to ensure you didn’t injure yourself.
It depends. Can you still move the sore area normally? Or are you restricted in your movement to the point that it’s causing you to compensate for the loss of mobility in other ways? If you answered no to the first question and yes to the second question, it’s best to give it a rest or risk causing further injury.
If you answered yes to the first and no to the second question, then it’s probably safe to exercise or engage in another physical activity. However, doing a less intense workout is probably best to give your muscles time to rebound quicker.
Some signs you have an injury instead of just normal muscle soreness can include:
- Loss of range of motion.
- Sharp pain.
If you think you’ve injured yourself and you’re not getting relief in a few days, it may be time to visit your doctor.
Warming up before and cooling down after exercise or strenuous physical activity can help prevent soreness and reduce the risk of injury. Starting with a slow walk or cycling on a stationary bike for 5 minutes is a good warm-up. Follow it with some gentle stretching that targets the muscle groups you plan to exercise.
During strenuous physical activity, lactic acid builds up in your bloodstream. If you don’t release it, you can find yourself struggling with muscle soreness for days after a workout. Some people also find using a foam roller works wonders for releasing tension after exercise.
Other effective ways to exercise safely when muscles are a bit tender include:
- Practicing gentle yoga.
- Stretching on alternate days prevents stiffness without overworking the muscle.
- Swimming laps.
As I already mentioned, some muscle soreness is normal after physical activity. Just because it’s typical doesn’t mean you have to sit there and suffer through it. There are some natural ways to relieve pain and discomfort that don’t come with harmful side effects.
Supplement with magnesium
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body. It’s critical for muscle recovery. You can include foods rich in magnesium after a workout or take a high-quality magnesium supplement.
Take a hot bath
Soaking in warm water can feel amazing when you’re stiff and achy after a workout. If you have access to a hot tub or jetted tub, immerse yourself in it for about 10 minutes. The heat and pressure from the jets can help tight muscle relaxes, preventing or relieving soreness.
Use some pain spray
Using an all-natural pain spray solution can bring instant relief to achy, overworked muscles. With naturally-derived ingredients like menthol, eucalyptus leaf, and peppermint oil, it’s safe to use as often as needed after a tough workout.
Shari Berg is a researcher, frequent blogger, feature writer, and author of Wars End with Me.
- Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Muscle Soreness and Performance. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed November 4, 2022.
- Exercise to Ease Arthritis Pain. cdc.gov. Accessed November 4, 2022.
- Is There Such a Thing as ‘Good Pain’ and When Should You Listen to Your Body? health.clevelandclinic.org. Accessed November 4, 2022.
- Lactic Acidosis and Exercise: What You Need to Know. webmd.com. Accessed November 4, 2022.
- Why your New Year’s resolution to go to the gym will fail. theconversation.com. Accessed November 4, 2022.