When To Push Through and When To Modify

Updated: Dec 26, 2020

You're in the gym doing your workout and mid-set, that little voice in your head tells you to stop. Sometimes the hardest thing is knowing whether your body or your brain is talking to you- your body to say you're at risk of injury, your brain wanting you to quit. Obviously a good workout will burn and you might be tempted to quit because of fatigue, but it's important to know the difference between a good burn and pain.

DOMS, But Not The Kinky Kind

Scenario: You haven't worked out in a couple months and decide to take Samantha's group Zoom class. The next day it hurts to walk up the stairs or sit down. Good or bad?

No shame if you've been in this boat before, because this happened to me the first time I trained with Samantha. Although it feels like your muscles are crying, this is classified as the good kind of pain.

Delayed onset Muscle soreness (DOMS) occurs when you slightly exceed your physical ability threshold. To simplify. you pushed yourself during the workout and now your muscles are rebuilding themselves to be stronger and endure more trauma. A good workout will cause minor trauma in your muscles. Key word here is MINOR.

Your activity threshold is based on age, baseline strength, and participation level. You're not gonna walk into the gym for the first time and start dead lifting 200 pounds. However, you might start with 30 pounds, and if that's easy go up to 40, and once 40 is easy move up to 50... and you get the idea. Being mindful of your activity threshold will help limit your chances of injury.

The other big thing to pay attention to is form. Many injuries occur as a result of improper form. Even if you're exercising with a group other than Weighting For Warriors, a trainer will always be happy to check your form. When you get fatigued during a workout, you are more likely to use improper form so it's important to have the muscle memory of proper form before you get tired.

With gradual progress and proper rest, DOMS should become less frequent and intense. DOMS should only last 1- 2 days, and usually feels like a burning sensation in a general muscle group during the workout and soreness in a general muscle group the day after the workout.

When The Pain is No Longer Good

Scenario: you're doing a push up set, and you start to feel a sharp pain in your left shoulder blade. You try to push through it, but the pain spreads across your upper back. that night, you wake up multiple times while trying to sleep because of the pain. Good or bad?

This scenario recently affected one of our clients. Since we just talked about the good pain, you can probably guess that this scenario is an example of bad pain. In this example, our client’s body was telling them to stop, stretch, and modify.

If you begin to feel pain during a workout, you need to take a break if:

  • The pain is in your joints, tendons, ligaments, or nerves. It can also be in a muscle, but the pain is in a spot you can pinpoint rather than a general area. (Ex: ankle vs. calves.)

  • The pain is only on one side of the body. (Ex: right shoulder blade hurts, the left does not.)

  • The pain is accompanied by a pop, crack, snap, or a general feeling that something isn't right.

  • The pain ends up washing over the area as a feeling of numbness like the feeling you get when your hand or foot falls asleep.

  • The pain doesn't go away with rest or within a couple days.

  • The pain does not get better with consistent treatment and/or pain medication.

  • The pain wakes you up in the middle of the night or affects your daily non-athletic activities.

If you experience any of these sensations during your workout, you need to stop. Let your trainer know where the pain is and they will help you stretch and modify. If the pain persists, go see a physician. You only have one body so it's important to listen to what it's saying and give it what it needs.

Modifying to prevent injury is NOT a sign of weakness.

Everyone who participates in athletic activity has dealt with injury. Think of all the professional athletes who stop playing early in a season so they have the time to recover and get back in the game next season. Everyone has their own tolerance for pain and activity threshold. Pushing yourself to the point of your activity threshold is okay. Pushing yourself just past your regular activity threshold will help make you stronger and lead to DOMS. Pushing yourself too far past that threshold will lead to injury. You may introduce your body to a new exercise unweighted, then add in a band, move to 10 pound dumbbells, work your way up to a 30 pound kettlebell and beyond. Progressive increase of weight over time will help you increase your activity threshold while decreasing your risk of injury.

We know, we know. "No pain = no gain" . But it should really read as "Bad pain = no gain" because pushing through with an injury will only make things worse and set you back for a longer period of time.

Other things that will lead to injury: bad form (esp. during explosive/jumping exercises), too much bodily stress too fast, or the accumulation of stress over time.

So What Can I Do?

Having an injury is not the end of the world. If you listen to your body and take care of it when it first shows signs of pain, you will most likely be back to normal quickly. However, we can't stress enough that if the pain persits you need to see a doctor.

We also want to remind you that everyone has a different level of pain tolerance; and nutrition, hormones, and body structure can affect the way we feel at certain times. No one else can tell you how you feel at any given moment, but we can offer ways to assist your recovery.

Here's what you can do to take care of your body when it's in pain:

  • Ice, ice, baby. Ice will reduce inflammation and reduce swelling, and many recommend to ice for at least 72 hours after the first instance of pain. You can use an ice pack, bag of ice, or that abandoned bag of frozen veggies in the back of your freezer. (Heat should be avoided in the first 72 hours.)

  • Pick up kinesiology tape or a brace (if its your knee or ankle)

  • Don't skip out on stretching

  • Exercise other parts of the body

  • if you hurt your upper body, work your lower body and vice versa.

  • Do modified aerobic exercise on the injured area

  • this only applies for minor injury and you should completely stop with pain during modification.

  • Instead of doing jump squats you can do air squats or regular squats

  • Do less reps, go slower, focus on your form

  • Think of stretching rather than strengthening.

  • Get a massage and have the masseuse focus on the area of injury.

Many athletes find that they grow the most during periods of rest and recovery. Taking the time to give your body what it needs will help you more in the long run, and when you're ready to return to your full range of motion your body will be ready to go. If you have any questions about modifications, one of our trainers will be happy to help. Let us know of any previous injury or if you're interested in a specialized plan for injury recovery.

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