Pain is often a sense of pride for gym goers. You’re not working hard enough unless you hurt. But that pain won’t do you any good if you’re sidelined by it later.
Figuring out how much pain is okay and how much is too much doesn’t have to be a guessing game, according to Michael Boyle, owner of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in Woburn, Massachusetts, and co-founder of Men’s Health Thrive.
“Discomfort as a result of exercise should be limited to your working muscles alone. You need to gauge when and wherepain occurs during an exercise,” says Boyle, who gets paid by Olympians and MLB, NHL, and NFL players to improve their athletic performance and decrease their injury risk.
Say you’re performing a split squat. If your quads and glutes burn at the end of a rep or set, the pain is typically a result of your working muscles getting tired. It’s when you feel pain in your working muscles at the start of a rep or set, pain in your joints, or pain in non-targeted muscles that you should stop. It could be a warning sign of injured muscles, tendons, or ligaments. “The reality is, you shouldn’t have any discomfort except for muscle fatigue,” says Boyle.
Of course, to adhere to this philosophy, you’ll need to be patient. “Whether it’s proving you can reach a certain athletic goal or you’re driven by external motivation like losing weight or building muscle, you have to let go of the feeling that if it doesn’t happen now it never will,” says Sara Buxton, M.A., L.P.C., co-director of the Chicago Center for Behavioral Medicine and Sport Psychology.
Now, we’re not suggesting your workouts be unchallenging. As Boyle pointed out, some discomfort is a good thing. Your working muscles need to be pushed so you can build strength and ignite growth. However, your muscles don’t have to sufferto indicate a quality workout. Performing an extra rep or set today will hardly make a difference in the long run, Buxton says. If you feel pain, back off. That way you can work toward your goals tomorrow instead of icing an injury.