Haven’t Got Time for the Pain: When to Push Past It and When to Stop

There’s good pain, and there’s bad pain. We’ll help you know the difference.
Haven’t Got Time for the Pain: When to Push Past It and When to Stop

Imagine yourself conquering a daunting hill during your workout, only to be halted abruptly by a surge of chronic knee pain. Perhaps you're mid-lap in the pool, feeling the weight of exhaustion on your arms, making each stroke seem insurmountable. Moments like these are familiar to many, whether it's a sudden twist in your calf muscle during a rowing session or a sharp resurgence of lower back pain while lifting weights in your Orangetheory Fitness class.

In those critical moments, the temptation to surrender can be overwhelming, and the mantra "I quit" may echo in your mind. But should you?

The answer isn't always straightforward; it hinges on various factors.

On one hand, you don't want to exacerbate an injury, but on the other, you don't want to deprive yourself of progress by holding back. Navigating this balance requires careful consideration.

Should You Work Out While Sore?

Muscle soreness can be a badge of honor after a challenging workout, but it can also be a sign that your body needs a break. Within the fitness community, opinions diverge on whether to power through the pain or to hit pause and recover. This article will demystify the topic of exercising while sore, exploring what science says about it and offering practical tips for your training sessions.

The Science Behind Exercising While Sore

When you work out, the stress on your muscles can result in microtears—a typical cause of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). This type of soreness usually develops 12 to 24 hours after a workout and peaks between 24 to 72 hours (about 3 days). The discomfort you feel is a natural part of the muscle-building process, as your muscles repair and strengthen. However, it's important to distinguish between moderate soreness and pain that could indicate an injury.

Research from the National Library of Medicine indicates that engaging in light exercise can be beneficial when you're sore. It increases blood flow and provides the nutrients your muscles need to repair themselves. However, the study cautions against intense workouts during periods of soreness as they can cause additional muscle damage.

Similarly, the American College of Sports Medicine suggests tailoring your workout to the severity of your soreness. Lighter activity can ease moderate soreness and stiffness, while severe soreness might be a sign to rest. It's about understanding your body's signals and responding appropriately.

Tips for Exercising While Sore

Before deciding whether to lunge into your next session or take time off, consider the following:

1. Listen to Your Body: Moderate muscle soreness is normal. But if the pain significantly hinders your movements, consider it a red flag.

2. Scale Back Intensity: opt for lighter exercise, like walking, yoga, or gentle stretching.

3. Focus on Recovery: Nutrition, hydration, and sleep are pivotal to helping your muscles heal. Don't overlook them!

4. Mix It Up: If your legs are sore, try focusing on upper body workouts, or vice versa.

Approach your fitness routine with a sense of compassion for your body's limits. With a well-balanced exercise strategy, you can enhance recovery without halting your progress.

Understanding Anti-inflammatory Supplements

From turmeric to fish oil, the market is bustling with supplements touted to reduce inflammation. But how do these substances work within our bodies to stave off inflammation?


Curcumin is celebrated for its ability to dampen the effects of inflammation-promoting enzymes. As a powerful antioxidant, it also bolsters the body's defense systems, combating oxidative stress that can lead to inflammation.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)

Omega-3s found in fish oil are essential fats our bodies can't make on their own. They are instrumental in generating substances known as resolvins and protectins, which help terminate the inflammatory response cycle.


Ginger isn't just a flavorful spice; it's dotted with compounds that block inflammation pathways in the body. Consuming ginger may support gut health and reduce systemic inflammation.


This impressive polyphenol found in red wine and grapes has direct anti-inflammatory action, hindering molecules responsible for triggering inflammatory pathways in the body.

Vitamin D

Often called the "sunshine vitamin," Vitamin D prevents an overly aggressive immune response, which can curtail chronic inflammation and autoimmune conditions.


Sourced from pineapples, bromelain exerts its effects by breaking down inflammations sustaining proteins, promoting a decrease in swelling and healing of injuries.

Green Tea

Green tea is a powerhouse of catechins—antioxidants that are shown to inhibit various molecules in the inflammation pathway, making it a soothing elixir for aches.

Integrating Anti-inflammatory Supplements into Your Lifestyle

Before integrating these supplements into your routine, consider the following:

  • Consult a Healthcare Professional: Get advice tailored to your health and lifestyle.
  • Consider Dietary Sources: Where possible, seek nutrients from whole foods.
  • Balance is Key: Supplements should accompany a well-rounded diet and not replace it.
  • Monitor Your Body's Response: Every individual's reaction varies.

Muscle soreness and inflammation are part of an active lifestyle, but they don't have to derail your fitness journey. With informed choices about exercise and natural supplementation, you can keep moving forward, healthily and effectively. Remember, knowledge is power, and in fitness, that power translates directly into stepping back on the treadmill with confidence, or into the comfort of a rest day, depending on what your body tells you.

Not All Pain is Bad, So When Do You Know?

Start with a little self-analysis. Here’s a train of questions to ask yourself:

Pay attention to your physical cues: knee pain, hip pain, joint pain; inability to catch your breath; dizziness. Anything medically related is a deal breaker. But anything psychological — like feeling exhausted — might push you to keep going.

Multiple studies have been conducted on the connection between the mind and the body during exercise. Research has found that despite feeling tired, there's often more energy available than you might think.

Determining whether the mind or the body wins out during a workout is an open-ended question. It's essential to respect the limitations and signals your body is giving you.

You want to push through discomfort but be careful about pushing through pain. It's crucial to listen to your body and adjust accordingly.

During workouts, be aware of how your body feels. Adjust your routine to accommodate any physical limitations or discomfort.

Coaches are trained to help individuals understand their capabilities during workouts and ensure they exercise safely.

Challenge yourself during workouts but prioritize feeling invigorated rather than completely exhausted afterward.

Incorporate movement throughout your entire day, not just during structured workouts, to minimize discomfort and promote overall well-being.

Tips On Evaluating Pain Type:

Sudden knee pain while running: “This is concerning. Discomfort related to fatigue or hard work is acceptable and a normal part of training, but a sharp, sudden pain is not,” advises a professional. Stop the activity immediately and seek a professional’s expertise.

Muscle cramps: Muscle cramping has long been associated with dehydration, excessive fluid and electrolyte loss through sweating, and hot, humid environments. Now, many experts think cramping is linked to neural fatigue, which involves abnormal nerve input to the muscle. Either way, individuals should stop exercising and allow recovery time to restore normal neural function, plus drink electrolyte-containing fluids.

Headache: It may be unrelated to exercise and be brought on by stress, anxiety, sleep debt, dehydration, medication, hormonal changes, and/or loud noise. However, if the headache is exacerbated by exercise or diminishes exercise capacity, the individual should not exercise or perhaps taper down their intensity.

Back twinge: This could be associated with a muscle that isn’t completely warmed up, poor technique, or bad body position. It may trigger something completely benign or become a major source of back pain. The discomfort may resolve itself, or it could get worse, resulting in muscle spasms that require medical attention.

Chronic back pain: This is an entirely different issue, which should be evaluated before participating in any exercise. The medical professional may suggest tapering down or stopping exercise loads temporarily or adjusting workouts to not make the pain worse.

General fatigue: Some fatigue is normal during a workout, but if it happens before exercise, it could indicate sleep debt, poor nutritional intake, or general malaise associated with overtraining or the onset of illness. This increases the risk of potential injury and should not be ignored. Shifting the workout focus to quality (“good reps”) rather than movement quantity (pushing hard to complete as many reps as possible) or just skipping the workout and resting might be necessary.

Nausea: Whether it’s an illness or a reaction to something eaten, exercise should be avoided because it alters our GI function, which can cause more duress. High-intensity exercise that elevates blood lactate and hydrogen levels can trigger nausea. If that’s the cause, slow down.


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