No Brain, No Gain

By definition, a good, intense workout involves a fair amount of hurting. You are pushing your body—muscles, joints, lungs, connective tissue, mind, etc.—to the limit, and this can result in pain and discomfort during the workout and DOMS afterwards. DOMS is delayed-onset muscle soreness and is typically experienced 24 to 48 hours after a workout. However, not even the most seasoned gym rat can always differentiate between DOMS and doom.

“To max your body’s potential you need the ability to fight through pain,” says fitness and nutrition advisor Steve Edwards, “but if you fight through the wrong kind of pain you’ll never be able to reach your potential.”

Sometimes, the “wrong kind of pain” to which Edwards refers is palpable: Acute, sudden pain, which could signal the presence of an injury like a muscle strain or sprain. Swelling or bruising is often the obvious symptom. This type of “bad pain” is clearly not the same as discomfort felt while training or temporary post-workout soreness. Acute and sudden pain is your body’s way of saying you did something it didn’t like and now it’s demanding you stop immediately. Anyone chanting “no pain, no gain” under these circumstances is either a masochist or a moron.

A pain dilemma arises when it’s less clear whether the discomfort is the type of ache one should expect after an intense training session or if it’s your body sounding an injury alarm. The common sense approach, as always, is caution. Without babying yourself, you can listen to your body and trust what it’s telling you. This is not about granting permission to take days off from exercise on a whim, but there is much to gain from remembering that staying fit and healthy is a marathon, not a sprint.

The gym isn’t going anywhere, and all those dumbbells and treadmills will be there tomorrow. It’s important to set goals—but don’t get carried away. If you have full use of your body and are able to challenge yourself to improve and advance, you are several steps ahead of many millions for whom just getting out of bed or putting on a shirt is an insurmountable obstacle. A healthy workout program begins with a healthy perspective.

Mickey Z. went to great pains to complete this column for you and he can be found on the web at