“No pain, no gain” may be a popular fitness mantra, but, despite what your boot-camp instructor might shout, your workout shouldn’t be a sufferfest. “Pain is the body’s signal that you should stop the movement you’re doing,” explains Jason Khan, Toronto-based physiotherapist and clinic director at Myodetox Yorkville Village. “It might not necessarily mean you’re injured or putting yourself in danger, but it definitely means something’s not right.” With multiple locations across North America, Myodetox specializes in manual therapy—including physio, massage and chiropractic—to help clients future-proof their bodies. Here’s why Khan says it’s key to tune into your body when engaging in your sport or activity of choice.
1. Aches and pains may signal a muscle imbalance.
Many of us have jobs that keep us deskbound all day, then we try to squeeze in a sweaty hour to make up for it. Given our lifestyles, “it’s like our body is more conditioned to be sitting versus active,” says Khan. When you try to do deadlifts, for example, which should activate your backside muscles (or “posterior chain”), your sitting-all-day body isn’t accustomed to switching those on. “So, the body will come up with compensation patterns—using other muscles instead of the ones we want to be using—and that can create imbalance and pain,” says Khan.
2. Discomfort might mean you’re doing too much, too soon.
“Pain is your body’s way of telling you that you need to slow down,” says Khan, who works with many runners who want to keep pushing through pain as they gear up for goal races. “They come to me with IT band issues or ankle issues all the time, and that’s because they’re building mileage and putting on all this pounding on their body—and they’re not doing simple things to assist them.” For runners, easy techniques to reduce injury risk include active warmups, such as glute activations, so you’re not relying too much on the IT band to do all the work.
3. Sharp pains may suggest something’s amiss with your form.
If you’re strength training, it’s important to know the difference between feeling the burn (normal muscle exhaustion) and experiencing abnormal pain. Telltale signs of the latter? “When it’s sharp, or there’s numbness or tingling,” says Khan. “Or if you’re trying to work a certain muscle and you feel it in a totally different place you weren’t targeting,” like sharpness in your shoulders when you’re doing bicep curls, “that could be an indication something is wrong.”
4. Pain may indicate you need to get limber.
Sitting all day at a desk will tighten up muscles like your hips, since you’re not moving them much. If you neglect to do exercises to improve mobility and flexibility, and then do a lot of running—which requires quite a bit of extension throughout the hip—your body will resort to compensation patterns, says Khan. “If you’re restricted in your hips and incapable of extension, you start making it up with the knee,” which is a habit that can lead to injury later on.
5. Long-lasting soreness may mean you should dial down the intensity and focus on recovery
If you’re doing a grueling workout for the first time, getting the DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) a day or so later is to be expected. But if you still feel aches nearly a week later, get checked out at a physiotherapy clinic. To help with soreness, Khan always recommends doing active recovery post-workout: If it’s leg day, for example, finish off by cycling lightly on a stationary bike for five to 10 minutes, followed by hip mobility drills and some light core and glute strengthening.