What your pain is trying to tell you
Too often the word “pain” is used as a catch-all for any kind of bodily discomfort while working out or exercising. It is important to determine what kind of discomfort you are experiencing in order to identify if something is wrong. Metro News Services
There are lots of different sensations that a person can experience when working out. Unfortunately, for the novice exerciser, those different feelings can all be lumped into one general category: pain.
In my experience, when someone says they’re feeling pain through an exercise, it needs more clarification. Our bodies are very complex machines and just using the word pain to describe a sensation isn’t giving enough information to correct an issue or is creating a lack of understanding on the correct terms to take advantage of a feeling we actually want.
So, here’s a brief guide to the different sensations you’ll get when going through an exercise program. This will include where you should be feeling these things, whether it’s over a muscle group, a joint or a general area; as well as if this is a feeling that is more reactive or by actively recruiting muscles to achieve a desired response. And, of course, do you want this feeling to continue or is this a warning sign for you to take a step back?
Pain — You’ll get this more over a joint: like your knees, hips, elbows or shoulders. It’s a sharp feeling, something that stings very strongly through the middle of the joint. If you feel this, it’s likely that you’re going to react strongly to it as well, such as jumping away, throwing a weight away, or generally recoiling from whatever you were doing.
Obviously, this is a bad thing. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. It’s a defence mechanism built-in to stop you from harming yourself. Whatever is causing this pain is something you should stop. Sometimes this means quitting a particular exercise altogether, but most times, it means you need to either limit the load that you’re under or control the range of motion that you’re going through. I like the idea that you can continue an exercise as long as you’re utilizing a “pain free range of motion.”
Soreness — Typically, soreness is felt through your muscles after a bout of exercise. After you’ve gone through a tough session at the gym, your muscles have also experienced a reasonable degree of trauma. What you may be feeling is either a build-up of calcium ions, commonly known as lactate or lactic acid, or a set of delayed on-set of muscle soreness, or DOMS. This will manifest by way of making it hard to move. Your muscles are under repair at this point and their ability to do any work is compromised.
Muscle soreness isn’t a bad thing. One thing it could tell you is that the intensity of your activity is higher than you’re used to and should be dialed back a little bit. Another way to combat this is by simply staying well hydrated. The feeling of soreness goes away in a day or two, and then it’s back to business as usual.
Tension — This is a common cue that I use to make sure that proper muscle activation is happening. Creating tension in areas such as between the shoulder blades or through the core, is crucial to creating and maintaining proper posture.
Tension is a super good feeling to have. It means you have a good understanding of how your muscles are supposed to work. It can also tell you if you’re hitting the right muscle groups or if how you’re doing your exercises is missing the mark.
Fatigue — Fatigue is a hard feeling to quantify. I think the easiest way to explain it is when you’re doing an exercise and you get to the point where creating any more motion or doing one more rep seems impossible. This shouldn’t be confused with overloading on weight and not being able to lift a given load. Fatigue kicks in at the end of a set or towards the end of a session.
Getting to that point of fatigue is a common goal for exercisers. Doing sets of exercise to fatigue or failure can be a gratifying feeling for some. It’s a way of testing your limits and finding out just how much you can actually accomplish.
Warren is an ACE Certified Fitness Trainer working out of a studio in downtown Camrose. He’s had experience with personal fitness and coaching for almost 10 years.