Know your body’s signs of overexertion during a workout

A woman resting on steps after experiencing overexertion from her workout

“No pain, no gain” is a popular mantra in sports and in weight rooms. It can be misconstrued, though, as a reason to overlook signs that your body needs a break.

The “pain” in that phrase refers to the discomfort of effort and exertion — that sensation your body gets from working hard.

If you’re feeling other types of pain, that can mean trouble ahead. Here’s what to look for when deciding whether to stop or modify your workouts:

  • Persistent soreness or stiffness – If you’re starting a new exercise, it’s normal to be a little sore 24 to 48 hours afterward. But if you’re sore every time you do a particular exercise or every time you work out, that’s when it’s time to take notice.
  • Sharp pains – Other than the burning sensation or muscular fatigue from exertion, you shouldn’t be feeling actual pain when you work out.
  • Little, nagging pains that you can’t shake off – If you have pain that persists and consistently interferes with workouts and daily life after a week or two, even after you try to give that joint or muscle a rest, it’s a good idea to get checked out by a physician.

If you continue to push through these pains, you could take a tiny injury and turn it into a chronic injury, making your rehabilitation of that injury even more difficult. In the worst-case scenario, a small injury could turn into a chronic condition that never completely goes away.

What to do when you experience warning signs of overexertion

In addition to seeing a physician for any worrying pain, modifying your workouts is important. Look for qualified personal trainers to help you develop a workout that will keep you healthy and help you avoid injury.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) both provide reputable certifications, so trainers who carry those qualifications are a safe bet. In general, look for a trainer who has experience well beyond simply passing computer-based certification tests. A great place to start is with word-of-mouth recommendations through your gym, or through family and friends.

Practicing good self-care is important, too: Create a warmup routine that gradually ramps up your mobility and keeps your joints flexible. Take the time to do post-workout recovery exercises — dynamic stretching and foam roller exercises can go a long way toward preventing injury. Developing a nutritional strategy that supports your workout routine and lifestyle is also helpful.

Be open to new workouts

When it comes to fitness, sports medicine and strength training, the most important thing to remember is that our knowledge is always growing.

With new technology and research, we keep learning more about how the body reacts to exercise. Use the latest information to your advantage.

If you’ve been doing the same workout for many years, try switching it up with a trainer’s help — you may find a new routine that takes half as much time in the gym but gets you the same or better results.


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