Soreness Vs. Pain: What's The Difference?
This post comes as inspiration from a recent conversation with a client on the topic of training through an injury. It’s a pretty important concept to get right, so today we’ll look at the difference between pain when training, and soreness.
But before we go into it, I want to tell a short story regarding the client who I mentioned above.
During a set of routine deadlifts, the client who I’ll call Steve, started to feel some mild discomfort in their lower back. However due to a few set of circumstances, being that their training partner was spurring him on to complete the set, he persisted despite the pain he was feeling.
“Come on. You can do it!”
“Easy weight. Come on baby!”
After a few more sets, Steve could no longer even lift the weight as it was debilitating his back. Session over before it had even started. He was out of the gym and heading home before he even got started.
Was this avoidable?
Injuries suck, and you want to avoid them as best you can. But they WILL happen at some stage in your training career so do your best to prepare for them and ensure that they are only a niggle.
But what’s this got to do with soreness you ask? Well, soreness is the type of discomfort we are inadvertently seeking out.
Usually a localised muscle in your body will experience some form of ache. It would make sense that training chest and back would result in some form of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) usually 24-72 hours post workout.
This is what we would prefer if we ever wanted to have a ‘pain badge of honour’ and should be treated as a progression to a stronger and leaner physique.
That doesn’t mean you should ALWAYS experience DOMS – actually far from it, as DOMS is usually a sign that you have started a new type of training, or you have added some extra volume to your workout. It could also be a signifier of poor recovery, but that’s a totally bigger topic by itself.
In other words, expect to feel some muscle soreness if you transition from circuit classes to a decent resistance training programme, or when you decide to add 3 extra working sets to your bench press.
So what’s the major difference?
It can best be defined by the sudden onset of pain against the delayed build-up of soreness. One is sudden and immediate, which is bad. The other is progressive and is less of a pain, and more of a micro-tearing of muscle which is completely fine and what we are actually after with our training.
In other words, if you feel your hip go in a squat after 1 rep then that’s probably pain and you should stop the set immediately.
However if wake up the next day after a killer leg session and can’t quite make the crapper because your abs, glutes and quads are screaming at you. Congrats, it sounds like a successful session.
What should I do if I feel pain during my training session?
The first thing to do is not panic, and assess the situation. Where is the pain? How did it occur? Was it before, during or after the set?
Next, you want to give yourself a few minutes to test the affected area.
Can you stretch it? Can you foam roll it? Are you able to move about?
Once you’ve gone through this practice, you have three options.
The first option is to decide whether you think it was just a really bad set and you’ll be fine to proceed.
The next is to decide if your form is questionable on the exercise, in which case it might be worth recording yourself and showing a professional. We have our SLM-5 course and private members area dedicated to fixing a trainees form for this. Otherwise get the opinion of a really good trainer.
Form all okay? Proceed, but with caution. It may even be worth dropping the weight by 5-10%.
The last option is that you are still in pain. In which case, get out there and get some rest. Assess the situation over the next few days and determine whether you need to seek professional help from a specialist.
Anything else to note?
Yes – usually the pain will be round one area, or one side of your body.
For example, when you are benching, and your left shoulder is starting to hurt; that’s not good, and you should stop immediately.
The keen eye my also notice that a lot of the issues will be round a joint, tendon or ligament, as opposed to the burn you feel in the muscle. You never want to compromise your supportive areas such as your tendons and ligaments. It’s just not worth it.
Re-assess your training and make the necessary changes to your technique and total volume if you keep getting banged up.
Remember these points and stay injury free strong and lean nation!