Good Pain vs. Bad Pain

June 13, 2007

There are two distinct types of pain that are encountered when strength training. One is good, the other bad.

The Good Pain

The good pain is the discomfort we usually feel within the working muscles during an exercise and is usually called ‘the burn.’ This burning sensation occurs when muscle fibers slide across one another and generate chemical changes and congestion that often are very uncomfortable. This sensation usually forces people to cease performing an exercise just as the exercise is becoming intense enough to stimulate a positive benefit. It feels worse in some muscles than in others and is usually more pronounced in the lower body than in the upper body.

There is another type of good pain and this is the feeling of soreness in the muscles a day or two (or three) after an intense exercise session. The term used is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS. DOMS can range from being very mild or so severe that you would swear that you have injured yourself. The soreness can cause you to feel somewhat immobile or give you a feeling of being ‘locked up.’

While it’s nice a few days after a training session to feel an achy rump (making it hard to sit down) or deeply sore biceps (making it hard to bend your elbow), it’s another matter entirely when you feel your neck or lower back muscles this way. Most people have little experience working their spinal muscles intensely and when the DOMS hit these areas it can feel as if you have injured yourself – but this is not the case.

Believe it or not one of the best ways to combat DOMS is to exercise! So don’t feel that you have to wait until the DOMS have completely disappeared before you exercise again. Oh contraire! The sooner you get back to your training the better.

Both of these types of pains are the good pains and are not to be feared but rather to be embraced.

Ironically enough, a lot of people who curse these feelings when they begin a proper strength training program become upset after a few months when they don’t feel these pains nearly as much and actually begin to complain that the exercises might not be beneficial anymore!

The Bad Pain

The bad pain is usually pretty obvious when it occurs. It is usually a sharp or sudden pain in or near a joint during the exercise and is totally different from the feeling of burning in the muscles or a deep seated soreness a few days later.

Most people who are unfortunate enough to have experienced these sorts of pains have a preexisting orthopedic condition and/or are performing their exercises improperly. These sorts of pains are usually accompanied by swelling around the joint (edema) and are best treated with RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation). If the pain lingers past a week seek the advice of a physician.

Usually it is not the amount of weight that causes these types of pains but rather the improper execution of an exercise. Sudden herky-jerky, fast initiations of the lifting phase are usually when and where these occur. As Newton discovered force equals mass times acceleration. Let me say it another way: Trying to overcome inertia suddenly and powerfully is the enemy.

Thankfully, Slow Burn training has a built in fail safe. Our recommendation is and always will be to initiate the first inch of movement in 2-3 seconds - barely cracking the weight stack to begin. An analogy I often use is, start an exercise as if you were picking up a day old infant that doesn’t belong to you or, like you are about to diffuse a nuclear bomb. The chances of injuring yourself even if you have a preexisting orthopedic malady are almost impossible if this rule of thumb is obeyed.

The saying ‘No Pain, No Gain’ is, to a large degree, true. But it is the type of pain that is important not just the pain itself.  So bear these thoughts in mind when exercising. By understanding the difference between the good pains and the bad your exercise sessions will be far more productive, safer and in the long run more rewarding.