Injured or Sore?

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A common exchange on the gym floor:

“Oof I’m so sore. Those squats from the other day… my legs are dead…”

“Yeah, me too. My legs feel like that newborn-baby-giraffe gif, and my shoulders still haven’t recovered from the pull-ups we did the day before that.”


Somedays it sounds like we wear soreness like a masochistic badge of honor. We let the soreness be a continual reminder of the hard work we put in. 


Can’t lift your coffee cup because your arms are too sore to lift it?  – “WOW, I crushed that workout.”

Struggling to sit down for dinner?- “I earned this meal because I pushed it so hard!”


While it is true that for muscle strength to increase, the muscles have to experience an increase in stress over what they are used to. This feeling should end shortly after the activity ends. You want some muscle “burn”, the feeling of your muscles being challenged, but not of working so hard your muscles/tendons/bones are failing repeatedly.


“No pain, no gain” is true to the degree that what you’re feeling is increased muscle stress and not pain that is caused by muscles and tendons experiencing too much stress too fast so that they cannot respond effectively. 


A difference between good pain and bad pain is indicated by your recovery. Fatigue after a good, strenuous workout is a sign that you were pushing to the edge of your limit. That’s good. You want a fatigue that leaves you feeling energized, not exhausted, exhilarated, not debilitated. 


If you are feeling exhausted and debilitated days later – that is a sign that you pushed your physiology excessively (your body’s capacity) and your recovery isn’t replenishing your muscles and energy stores effectively. 


In short – if you are still sore three days later – it’s time to reevaluate your nutrition, your rest, and how hard you push during workouts. 




In the gym it can be hard to watch other athletes move bigger weights, hit wider ranges of motion or get more rounds. (That other athlete can even be a former version of yourself!) In that mindset it can be difficult to intentionally limit the weight and the speed to what your body is capable of today. An unfortunate consequence of that way of thinking can be that you push yourself past healthy stress and cause injury. Unlike “muscle burn”, injuries do not end when the activity ends.


“Your muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bones are living structures that react to the stress of exercise only gradually. If they see stress too fast, they cannot respond effectively and may begin to fail.”


What are the signs of injury?


Muscles – when muscles that haven’t experienced stress get worked, they respond with soreness. This soreness typically begins within a few hours but peaks one to two days after exercise. This soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness and may represent actual muscle damage. In rare cases you can cause your muscles so much stress that they release proteins into your bloodstream which can shut down your kidneys (Rhabdomyolysis). If muscles are stressed too quickly (without a good warm up, or too much weight) you can tear muscles! This happens when muscles are carried past a controlled range of motion usually by momentum. 


Tendons – your tendons connect your muscles to bones. When overly stressed, especially if they are being forced to do the work of stabilizing meant to be done by your muscles, they may get irritated. Tennis elbow? Knee pain? Overstressed tendons feel painful and sometimes swollen. Your tendons will remind you every time you move them that they are stressed and need a break.


Bones – your bones respond to stress by building more bone along the lines of stress. This is why it’s so great to lift heavy weights! It helps your body defend itself against bone loss! However bones that are stressed too fast can develop stress fractures. If you’re limping after activity, or experiencing bone pain even when sitting or sleeping go see a doctor! If ignored this can result in an actual break. 


Cartilage – This is the slippery white tissue on the ends of the bones in the joint that allows the bones to glide and move smoothly over one another. Proper attention to range of motion, and mobility will help you move your joints correctly and can address muscle imbalances that may have caused you to use a joint suboptimally. If you have joint pain make sure you let a coach know so that we can look at the way you are moving and suggest changes. 


What to do if you are injured:


Tell a coach. We do not want you to keep working through an injury! Continuing to stress the injured body part will not help it heal itself. Last I checked we don’t have any professional athletes at the gym who need to perform despite an injury, which means we all can take time to recover well. It doesn’t mean the end of your fitness either! If a muscle in your left shoulder is injured and you are taking time to recover, we as coaches know many ways to exercise the other 599 muscles in your body. 


We want you to be your best version of yourself today! And we want to make sure that you can keep showing up to lay on the gym floor complaining about sore muscles and the common experience of shared suffering.

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