Good Pain, Bad Pain from a Workout

Written by Karen Andes

That little ache could be telling you something. Columnist Karen Andes helps you to identify good pain and bad pain in your workouts.pain from a workout

If you're over 35, you've put lots of mileage on your shoulders, back and knees. So by now, you're probably intimate with different types of pain. Pain is, well ... a pain. But creaks, twinges and dull throbs don't always have to sideline you from exercise, if you know how to read the signs.

Good pain, as in "It hurts so good," is that famous "burn" that occurs when you work out hard. A kind of Holy Grail sought by many athletes, the burning is usually lactic acid, a waste product, coursing through your muscles.

The following factors are generally indicative of good pain:

  • It comes on slowly.
  • It's local to the muscles you're working.
  • It usually occurs on both sides of the body at once (if you're working both arms and legs together).
  • It disappears when the exercise is done.
  • It's associated with the tenderness you get a day or two after a vigorous workout, when muscles repair themselves. This is your body's way of telling you to stay away from another tough workout involving those muscles, until the soreness has gone. Light, limbering moves are fine, however, for warming sore muscles.
  • Bad pain is a completely different animal. It's your body's way of saying, "Yo, wake up! Pay attention here!"

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    You only have time to workout on the weekend or you've overdone it and and "pop" yougood and bad pain sprained your ankle or torn a ligament.  What to do? First, know the difference between good and bad pain. Here are the characteristics of bad pain:

    • Often comes on without warning, is sudden and sharp.
    • Tends to occur in joints more often rather than muscles, although you can pull or tear a muscle, too.

    Weight train around your bad pain. Here's how:
    Avoid any exercises that cause more pain. It sounds obvious, but some people don't listen to their bodies.
    Use lighter weight and strict form on any moves that hurt.
    Slow down. Using muscle, not momentum, puts less stress on joints.
    Change the angle. If shoulders hurt on an incline bench, try a flat bench.
    Change your grip. If a wide grip on a shoulder or bench-press machine causes pain, use the narrow handles, with palms facing in.
    Use a smaller range of motion. Avoid the painful part.
    Work the good side. If you happen to have broken one leg, work the other one. Thanks to a fascinating little body miracle called "bilateral transfer," your broken leg will actually get a little stronger too.

    • Usually occurs on one side of the body only (unless it's in your spine).
    • Can radiate far from the actual injury. If you twisted your ankle, you can feel residual pain in your hip.
    • Sticks around when the exercise is done.

    If you're feeling good pain while you exercise, you're on the right path. You're working hard and smart. But the moment you feel bad pain, back off. Never try to tough it out through an injury unless of course your life depends on it.

    Bad pain doesn't have to stop your workouts. Since bad pain is often localized in specific parts of your body, try working around the pain with weight training. Check out the tips on this page.

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