Exercise Pain: Good vs. Bad

When embarking on an exercise program, you must know that there is going to be some soreness and discomfort that comes along with it. For the most part, this is a good thing. But it can be hard to decipher what is good pain, and what is bad pain. I’m here to help, so let’s get into it!

Good Pain:

Intense Burning:

Probably the most common form of exercise discomfort, intense burning within a muscle during the middle of an exercise, while uncomfortable, is a great pain to have! It means that you are properly working your muscles to fatigue. And while most want to stop the second they start to feel this pain, it’s a good idea to keep going through the burn for as long as you can handle. Pushing yourself through this burning sensation is a good thing, because not only will it help you burn more calories during your workout, but it helps build stronger muscles, and those stronger muscles will help to increase your metabolism over time! So keep it going!


An exercise pain that is a little bit harder to distinguish is an achy feeling during an exercise. An achy soreness is one that is not sharp or stabbing, but there’s still quite a bit of discomfort in your muscles throughout the exercise.

If your muscles are achy during your exercise, it’s probably wise to take it a little bit easier than you normally would for the exercise. This is because you are likely working out some very weak muscles, and they should be lightly exercised until they build up a little more strength. Once you get a few workouts in with these weaker muscle groups, the achiness should start to subside and you’ll be able to continue working your muscles harder and harder.

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A weak or fatigued muscle is one that feels quite heavy compared to normal, and it seems as if they aren’t able to lift as much weight as what you would normally think they can handle. This is not a bad thing at all as it usually means that you are working out some very weak muscles, muscles that need to be strengthened.

So, if you are new to exercise and you get this feeling during your routine, don’t stop, keep going so long as it doesn’t become painful. The only reason why this sort of exercise pain can be a bad thing is if you’ve been exercising a lot lately and your muscles are overworked. If this is the case, this is a sign of over-training syndrome, which can actually be detrimental to your progress. So, if you are suffering from fatigue due to over-training, it’s best to rest up for a couple of days and let your muscles recover back to their normal strength levels.


So you just finished an exercise routine and your arms and legs feel very rubbery and/or like jell-o. Although this is a very strange feeling to have when you’re not used to it this is actually a great thing. In fact, you should make it your goal to feel this way at the end of each of your workouts! This feeling means that you worked your muscles out to a point that’s much farther than what they are normally used to being worked! And this is exactly how you see progress in an exercise program. If you don’t work your muscles out hard enough to feel the burn or the fatigue that comes with exercise, you are not going to make any progress. So keep doing what you are doing! The discomfort might not seem too pleasant at first, but you’ll quickly learn to embrace it!


Delayed Soreness:

So, you did a strength training routine on Monday, and yet you are intensely sore from it on Tuesday, Wednesday and even Thursday! So what gives? Did you do something wrong?

The answer is no, or at least not likely. This is one of the unfortunate side effects of exercise, and it’s called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and you can start feeling the soreness within hours of your exercise bout, and it usually peaks around 48-72 hours after exercise.

But again, this is usually a good thing! It means you worked your muscles hard enough for them to need to repair themselves for several days afterwards, which helps build strength! However, one big problem with delayed onset muscle soreness is that it can easily deter beginners from continuing exercise programs. This is because your DOMS is always the most intense within the first month or two of an exercise regimen, and then it becomes much more tolerable over time. T

To prevent this, it’s best to start slow and light. Don’t try to do too much, too fast when it comes to strength training. And always listen to your body, as your body knows best. If you follow these rules, you should be able to successfully ease your way into a new exercise program!

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Bad Pain

Sharp/Stabbing Pain:

If you’re in the middle of performing an exercise, and you experience a sharp, stabbing, or shooting pain, it’s probably a good idea to stop that exercise immediately.

A sharp pain within your muscle or joint is a sign of a potential injury. In a lot of cases, these injuries are generally nothing too serious and something that specific exercises can help to fix. But it’s a good idea to consult a doctor and/or physical therapist to make sure that it isn’t anything too serious.

As a bonus, they will be able to lead you in the right direction towards being able to heal your injury fast! It would also be a good idea to consult an exercise professional to make sure that you are performing your exercises both safely and properly.

Chest Pain:

It should go without saying, if you experience intense chest pain during an exercise bout, you should probably see a doctor if you haven’t already. Heart related chest pain is often a deep pain within the chest that can radiate to the jaw, arms or the back, and it is often exacerbated by physical activity.

Although you should really consult your doctor to make sure you are fit for physical exercise prior to starting an exercise program, if you experience this type of chest pain, please go see your doctor immediately. Even though not all chest pain is heart related, it is still a good idea to rule out the possibility with your physician. It’s far better to be safe than sorry.


Have a very sore or tender joint? You may be experiencing tendinitis. This is where the thick, fibrous muscle tendon attaches from the muscle to your bone, and it becomes inflamed for one reason or another. It can often become inflamed due to overuse of a particular joint, a muscular imbalance around that joint or weak muscles around that joint.

Something you can do to reduce the inflammation, is a method called R.I.C.E. This stands for Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate. Using the R.I.C.E. method, you’ll want to rest the affected joint as much as possible if it is being overused, place direct ice on the joint for at least 15-20 minutes several times per day, wrap the affected area in a compression wrap and elevate the limb (if possible) to help reduce the inflammation.

Once the inflammation goes down, you’ll want to implement light and specific strength exercises to the joint to help build the muscles back up. If the tendinitis is bad, and doesn’t seem to go away, you may want to talk to a local physical therapist to see about getting specific treatment for your injury.

Prolonged Numbness:

If you are performing an exercise and it gives you a shooting numbness sensation, such as a numbness that shoots down either your arm or your leg you should stop that exercise immediately. You likely have an irritated nerve.

With an irritated nerve, it’s important to identify the cause of the irritation as soon as possible and fix it before it becomes a pinched nerve or worse. A vast majority of the time, irritated nerves are caused by weak muscles and poor posture.

If you are having a shooting pain down your arm, it is likely that a nerve stemming from your neck is being irritated by weak and lengthened muscles in either the neck or shoulder joint. If you are having shooting pain down your leg, it is likely that you have an irritated nerve in the low back or hip, or even that you have a potentially bulging disc. As with any of these bad exercise pains listed, it is vital that you check with your doctor and/or a physical therapist to fix the problem before it becomes much worse.


Although dizziness and blackouts caused by exercise may not always be painful, it’s good to list this potentially hazardous occurrence in this category.

Most of the time, dizziness and blacking out during exercise is a phenomenon that can be prevented with proper measures. The primary cause of these is a lack of blood-flow to the brain due to a drop in blood pressure. Therefore, dehydration is often a likely cause as the lack in fluids in your blood will drop your blood pressure; this can be caused by lack of fluid intake, or excess fluid output, usually when exercising in excessively hot environments. The same goes for a lack of proper eating prior to an exercise bout; this will drop your blood sugar which drops blood pressure as well.

However, if you know that none of these were the root cause of your exercise related dizziness or blacking out, there are some more serious conditions that may be causing this to happen. If that is the case, consult your doctor immediately to find and fix the root cause of the problem so you can get back to exercising as soon as possible!

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Treating Muscle Pain & Soreness

If your exercise pain lies under the bad pain category, you should have a pretty good idea already of what you need to do to get over your problems. Usually visiting a physician and/or a physical therapist is the best route to go to get you back on your feet in no time!

If your exercise pain lies under the good pain category, there are things that can be done to lessen the pain you have as you get stronger!

  • Make sure you get an adequate 10-15 minute warm-up and cool down before and after you exercise.
  • Start a regular stretching program. Talk to a personal trainer about different stretches that you can do that would be appropriate for you
  • Take in enough protein (especially after you exercise). You want to get at least 20-30 grams of protein in at no more than 60 minutes after you finish exercising to help build muscles efficiently.
  • Have tight muscles? A warm bath can help to soothe and loosen up those tight muscles!
  • Get a massage!
  • Learn how to foam roll! For some good tips, check out this helpful guide!

Still have questions? Leave a comment below or send us a direct message from the contact us tab!

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-Mike Zimmer, Wellness Director


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