Health Blog

Powerful Exercise Advice for Staying Injury Free

Couple Stretching Sm

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “no pain no gain!” This idea is pervasive in the world of exercise and fitness. But is it true?

Normal Response to a Workout
Muscle burn associated with working out may be uncomfortable, but most do not consider it pain. This normal sensation is related to ischemia (depletion of oxygen in the tissue from sustained work of the muscle) and build up of lactic acid causing local change in pH. As soon as you stop the exercise and rest, the “burn” resolves quickly.

A second “pain” from working out manifests itself within 24-48 hours and settles into the areas that you trained during your workout. If you ran, your legs might feel sore, or if you were at the rock gym, your arms may be sore. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) feels sore when you move especially after being idle and it eases as you get warmed up. Most people would classify DOM as soreness and not really as pain.

You may experience DOMS when you do a new activity or return to something you have not done recently. How many can identify with being sore after that first weekend of yard work after a long winter? Generally, the soreness peaks within 24-48 hours and is largely gone in 72 hours.

If Pain, NO Brain
I admit I have lost my brain on occasion. I am no different than most sport lovers. I do not want to sit on the sidelines and wait for a little pain to pass. I am optimistic. I can push through aches and pains because surely they will just go away… eventually.

Recently, I suffered a calf strain, which resulted in a substantial limp. But, at the rock gym where I work out, there was a guest route setter from France hosting a fitness class for climbers. Naturally, I had to attend. He was here from FRANCE for one week only. Bottom line, 3 minutes into the class during the warm-up my calf made itself known with a searing pain. Did I quit? No! We were headed out to the rock wall, and I thought I could just climb with one leg and two arms. Too bad I don’t have the upper body strength to accommodate multiple pull-ups up the wall with one leg for balance. I left that day with a not only the calf strain but a shoulder strain as well. Don’t be dumb like me! Listen to your body and stop if you have pain.

Pain is an indication that there is tissue damage being done. It is not a warning signal. Pain may be related to overtraining without adequate recovery time, biomechanical faults, muscle weakness or imbalance. Any of these issues can result in an increased strain on tissue and break down over time.

As a general rule, assume pain (outside of DOMS) is causing tissue damage. This may be experienced as sharp, shooting, intense, pinching, tearing, or any pain in the joint. Thus, it is not advantageous to push through pain. Symptoms that do not resolve with rest or return immediately upon resuming your sport or work out are red flags and should be addressed.

If you are experiencing pain or injury there is a very different set of rules for training injured tissue versus healthy tissue. Every type of tissue in the body (bone, cartilage, muscle, tendon) has on optimal stimulus for repair. It is important to determine which tissue(s) is contributing to your pain, and how to provide that tissue with appropriate stimulus for repair. This means doing the correct type and amount of exercise for that tissue throughout the stages of healing. Ignoring the pain or continuing with the same exercise regimen may actually result in more damage to that tissue. Demanding performance from injured/painful tissue will increase metabolic workloads that cannot be supported and result in further break down of that tissue.

Why Rest is Best When It Comes to Exercise
To make changes in your current muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, or even the ability of your connective tissues, like tendons, to increase their capacity to withstand strain, you have to overload those systems via exercise. Training effect occurs when the body adapts as a response to the tissue, organ or system being pushed past its normal threshold or activity level. In order to achieve fitness gains, one has to train, create muscle breakdown, recover, and then train again. But, it is during rest that your body actually does the building. Therefore, it is vital that you build recovery time into your training program. This may be in the form of circuit training to vary the challenges to the body and target different muscle groups, taking rest days, appropriate hydration, nutrition and dosed progression to allow your body the opportunity to respond and adapt to the demands you are placing on it.

And the answer is…
Avoiding pain is powerful wisdom for staying injury free with activity. It is great to challenge yourself and progress your workout over time. This is the stimulus that triggers our muscle to get stronger and our cardiovascular system to become more efficient. But you do have to progress gradually to allow your body a chance to adapt and meet your new demands. Cross training, resting, nutrition, hydration, and even fun are integral to maintain a healthy workout.

If you are experiencing pain or injury limiting your performance, contact the MTI Physical Therapy clinic in your neighborhood to consult with one of our PTs. The sooner you address the issue the quicker things can turn around limiting further degradation, pain, and compensations.


Rebecca Catlin PT, DMT, OCS, FAAOMPT
Physical Therapist
MTI Physical Therapy – Issaquah

“I am a Physical Therapist with over ten years experience. I value general fitness for health and vitality so during the week you will find me at a local gym or jogging around town. Weekends find me on athletic pursuits that usually include high places via rock, snow, glacier, or ice.”

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