Should you Push Through the Pain?

Victor Williams

January 15, 2021

When is it worth it to push through the pain?

In a lot of gym environments, sports, or life in general, there is a positive stigma behind being able to push through or endure immense amounts of pain without giving up or backing off. I’m sure we’ve all experienced it or heard our coaches say, “One more rep! You can do it! I know it hurts, but you can push through the pain!” But why should we work through the pain?

To break it down to the basic science, exercise is the act of exposing your body to the right kind of stress - which usually involves an aspect of pain - so that, after you recover, your body has developed the ability to tolerate more of and better respond to that stressor more efficiently. So, try not to get too mad at your trainer (hopefully me!) when they make you do one more rep than you thought you could. This type of pain is usually a muscular burn or sensation of the lungs being on fire, which is fine 90% of the time if you don’t have any underlying conditions that may be affected by exercise.

That said, sometimes pain is a sensation designed to warn us that something may be wrong, or that we are potentially exposing our bodies to too much stress. For some this may seem obvious, but pinching, dull, throbbing and stabbing pains tend to be things we want to avoid. If your trainer wants you to push through THAT without asking the right questions to assess the potential severity, then perhaps you need a new one. Here are a few good questions to consider:

Is this pain intolerable or just uncomfortable?

What type of pain is it?

How long have you been experiencing it?

What types of things aggravate it?

After gathering some context, a good practice is to use a scale of 1-10 to quantify things. Here’s a scale to help you visualize:

1-3 - little to mild pain
4-6 - moderate pain
7-9 - severe pain
10 - very severe pain

Generally speaking, my philosophy is that any exercise that causes a pain level over five likely needs to be modified. Ultimately, only you can determine whether or not something is tolerable, but I recommend playing it closer to the safe side. Better safe than sorry! Injuries can also be the result of damage over an extended period of time, so keep that in mind.

If you’re ever feeling these potentially harming types of pain, don’t be afraid to speak up to your trainer - even if it’s moderate but manageable - so that they can give you another exercise that’s similarly effective in a way that makes you feel more comfortable.

Hopefully this is helpful!

Happy training,