Good Versus Bad Pain In Workouts: The Burn Versus Alert of Injury

Nothing quite hits the spot more than a high-intensity, grueling workout. Aside from the massive endorphin rush it causes, you are left feeling accomplished and pumped up like a tractor tire.

But sometimes you can go too far. It’s better to ease off the gas then send yourself into a point of no return.

The Pain Of Exercise

Pain is a common side effect of exercise. It can be either a good thing or a bad thing.

Certain people love the feeling of being sore for days after a workout or they don’t feel they’ve trained hard enough. This type of pain is common when you perform a new workout or are exercising for the first time in your life.


Muscle fibers are literally being broken down while working out and that’s why your muscles hurt. It usually takes about 48 hours for this pain to reach its max, but it can linger on for up to a week. Because of the delayed effect, it is literally called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS for short.

This type of pain is not actually bad, but it can be aggravating. When you suffer from this soreness, you are best not doing exercises that target the problem areas. This can only make things worse and open you up to irreversible damage.

In comes a condition known as Rhabdomyolysis. It has recently become common knowledge that really high-intensity workouts, such as CrossFit, performed several days a week can promote “rhabdo.”

Simply put, this condition arises when you do not give your muscles enough time to heal. If they are ripped and you keep making them do something they do not want to do, they will rebel by breaking down and causing a toxic substance called myoglobin to develop.

This leads to permanent muscle damage and kidney disease. The kidneys are affected because they are unable to flush the myoglobin from the body.

The “Good Burn”

The good burn you feel is short-lived and it’s the result of a substance called lactic acid. It builds up in the body when you do an exercise for an extended period of time.

You know that feeling you get when you do sprints and your legs start burning really bad? That’s lactic acid build up.

You will likely get this same feeling during a set of bench presses or biceps curls. When you feel this burn, stop and rest for a minute then start over.

Lactic Acid And DOMS Are Not The Same

Sometimes lactic acid build up will lead to delayed muscle soreness, but it’s only if you tear your muscle fibers enough in your routines.

As you work out, you will get a sense of your pain threshold. Pay close attention to this and you will be able to avoid long-term soreness and injury. For example, if you do a workout and are sore for three days afterward, it doesn’t mean you should never do that workout again. You just need to acclimate yourself. Try it again once you are healed and see how you feel. You may have no soreness at all and be good to go.

The most important take home message is never target sore muscles on consecutive days. If you do heavy squats, for example, there is a good chance you will experience lactic acid build-up as you go up in weight and sets.
If you are sore the following day, avoid all leg work until the soreness is gone. Squats are multi-joint exercises anyway and they should never be done two days in a row.