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Should you 'push through pain' when you exercise?

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Should you 'push through pain' when you exercise?

Post by AlleyRose on Mon Nov 10, 2014 9:33 pm

No. A certain level of discomfort is expected, but pain is often a sign you need to stop.

Our expert: Carly Ryan and Dr Nathan Johnson

Have your say

If you feel pain during exercise do you keep going, or pull the pin?
Conditions of Use

Most of us experience niggling aches or pains when we're working out, and when it comes to exercise there's no denying sometimes it can hurt. But if we stop working out at the first sight of discomfort, we'd probably never do any exercise at all.
So when it comes to pain, when do you tell yourself to stop griping and keep going – and when should you rest?
Carly Ryan, exercise physiologist at Exercise and Sports Science Australia, says it's important to differentiate between "pain" and "discomfort" when working up a sweat.
"Effort and discomfort go together and that's what most people would call good pain – you generally expect to feel some level of discomfort," she explains.
"If it becomes actual pain – burning or stabbing or sharp – that's not a good sign and you should stop."
Dr Nathan Johnson, senior lecturer in exercise and sports science at the University of Sydney, says while discomfort from feeling fatigue during exercise is normal, acute pain associated with injury or illness is not.
"If you're feeling joint or musculoskeletal pain, or anything associated with chest pain, then that's an indication to stop exercising immediately," he warns.

Knowing the difference

Both Ryan and Johnson agree the easiest way to tell if you are feeling pain or discomfort is to just cease the exercise.
"A little bit of a burn that goes away when your muscles stop working is often just a result of the exercise, so it's okay to continue," Ryan explains.
"But if it continues and you're getting, say, a sharp pain in your knees or you feel a painful twinge in your hamstrings that affects your ability to keep moving, then it's most likely pain because you've overdone it, so you need to stop."

Lactic acid

The most common form of pain or discomfort we feel during strenuous exercise is a burning sensation in our lungs or muscles that goes away shortly after we cease the activity.
This is caused by a build-up of lactic acid. It's this lactic acid that causes the light burning in your lungs during a jog or in your muscles when you lift weights.
Lactic acid is a by-product of the process your body goes through when it needs to create energy more quickly than it normally does, such as when you are doing strenuous exercise. Your working muscles usually generate energy aerobically (ie using oxygen), but when you push yourself during a workout and sufficient oxygen isn't available then they start generating energy anaerobically, and lactic acid is a by-product of this process. The harder you work, the bigger the build-up of lactic acid.
However, the fitter you are, the better your body will be at clearing the lactic acid, so eventually you'll be able to train harder for longer.
Serious athletes train to push through intense burning, but Ryan says for us mere mortals, continue as long as you're able to breathe regularly and aren't feeling any pain in your joints or sharp twinges in your muscles.
"We want people to push themselves a little bit outside of their comfort zone, but if it's starting to feel wrong and you're questioning it, then you're better off stopping and seeking the advice of an appropriately qualified exercise professional," she says.

Delayed-onset muscle soreness

If you've ever done a strenuous workout for the first time, or after you've had some time off from exercise, chances are you were feeling a bit sore and sorry for yourself a few days after.
This is called delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and is your body's way of letting you know you've done something it's not used to.
"It should ease off over the next couple of days, but if it doesn't and you're finding it hard to sit or move, it probably suggests you've done too much," Ryan explains.
Although sitting on the couch until it goes away is appealing, the best way to overcome DOMS is with light exercise.
"A gentle walk or swim – with less intensity than what caused the DOMS – will reduce the pain and speed up the recovery process," Ryan says.
"The bloodflow to your muscles will help them repair and improve flexibility and mobility."

The great stitch mystery

Most of us have had that stabbing abdominal pain commonly referred to as a stitch.
But what causes a stitch continues to puzzle scientists.
"There's some evidence that stitches can be associated with fluid intake and the recommendation is to drink small amounts," Johnson suggests.
"It might also be associated with the changes in breathing that occur during exercise, so try to regulate your breathing by lowering the intensity."
Ryan says people who are new to exercise tend to get them more often because they may not warm up enough.
"It usually means you're probably going a bit too hard for the day, so ease into your program gradually," she suggests.

Preventing pain

The best way to prevent pain or extreme discomfort during exercise is to always properly warm up and cool down, and increase the load every four weeks, Ryan recommends.
"It doesn't matter what kind of exercise you're doing, if it feels like it's too much for your body, just ease off," she says.
"It's completely normal to do a slightly modified move or less than what you've been instructed to do, if you're in a class. You'll still get great benefits without doing the whole range of movement."
Carly Ryan is an exercise physiologist at Exercise and Sports Science Australia; Dr Nathan Johnson is a senior lecturer in exercise and sports science at the University of Sydney. They spoke to Cassie White.

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