Pain and Discomfort – Knowing the Difference

When conducting a personal training session, one of the worst things to hear from your client is, “this hurts!” After all, I am there to help them, not to mess them up!

However, a lot of the time when a client complains that something “hurts,” what’s really happened is that they’ve confused pain and discomfort. Pain is something to avoid; discomfort, on the other hand, is something to accept. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.

Experiencing a burning sensation in your muscles (and/or lungs) during exercise is common, and should not be mistaken for pain. Once you can accept this and get on with what you need to do, you can really start to get somewhere. A common characteristic amongst great athletes is a high tolerance for physical discomfort.

Soreness following a workout – even extreme soreness – can be unpleasant, but it doesn’t mean that you are injured or over-training. When people experience the severe soreness that results from doing a serious leg workout for the first time, it’s not uncommon to be concerned that something has gone wrong. Rest assured this is not pain, just discomfort.

Real pain, if you are ever unlucky enough to experience it, doesn’t leave any vagueness as to its nature. True, you’ll hear the occasional story of the guy (or girl) who walks around on a broken foot for 3 weeks without realizing it, but those stories are exceptional because when bones break and muscle tears happen, it’s usually painfully clear what has occurred.

When performing a given exercise, you may get a twinge of something minor that has gone awry; this can usually be fixed with adjustments to your form or changing the resistance. However, there are certain movements that can be problematic due to contraindications that may exist from previous injuries – which is one reason why it’s great to hire a trainer if you have special needs or if you are particularly concerned about injuring yourself. Otherwise, use common sense, just don’t wimp out when the going gets tough.

4 thoughts on “Pain and Discomfort – Knowing the Difference

  • By Laury -

    People are usually concerned about the expensive of a trainer….however, doesn't even compare to the cost of how badly you can injure yourself when you do not know what you are doing! Also, the lack of results and time & energy you put into working out incorrectly…always smart to hire a professional, even if it's only for 1 or 2 sessions…great post..this is something I struggle with with clients at times…trying to get them to understand the difference between joint pain and muscle fatigue.

  • By Al Kavadlo -

    Glad you like this one, Laury. Some people can't afford to have a personal trainer, others can't afford not to!

  • By erica -

    Whenever I hear, “this hurts,” my first question is always “Is it painful or is the muscle working?” Once my client has a moment to think about it, 9 out of 10 times it's the muscle that's working. Initially, I would get nervous about my ability to be a good trainer. Sometimes the bigger picture is open communication and asking the right questions. Great topic, stud!

  • By Al Kavadlo -

    Right on, Erica. Communication is such a huge part of the trainer/client relationship that often gets overlooked. As one of my old training mentors used to say, “Listen carefully, question skillfully.”

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