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Courtney Smith


May 5, 2024

Understanding Pain in Training: Insights from a CrossFit Coach and Physical Therapist

As a physical therapist and coach at CrossFit MNC, I see many athletes who are eager to push their limits. This enthusiasm is one of the reasons I love our community. However, understanding the difference between good pain and bad pain is crucial to not only improving your performance but also preventing injuries. Today, I want to share some insights on when to push through pain and when to take a step back.

Good Pain vs. Bad Pain

“Good Pain” is what we often call "feeling the burn." This type of pain is typically a mild to moderate sensation that you feel during exertion, indicating that your muscles are being challenged. It might be uncomfortable, but it's not sharp or debilitating. This pain should dissipate shortly after you finish your workout. Another type of acceptable pain is one that "warms up" as you continue to exercise—this means it may start off feeling a bit uncomfortable, but as you move and your body warms up, the discomfort diminishes. Experiencing these types of pain means you are pushing your physical limits in a healthy way, which is essential for growth and improvement.

“Bad Pain” is a signal from your body that something is wrong. It's often sharp, intense, and may persist or worsen with activity. This type of pain can manifest as joint discomfort, sharp back pain, or any pain that feels different from the typical muscle soreness. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Ignoring these signals can lead to conditions that may seriously compromise your health and fitness goals.

When to Push Through

1. Muscle Fatigue During a Workout: Feeling your muscles burn during a high-intensity workout like CrossFit is normal. This type of discomfort is a sign that you are pushing your muscles to adapt, leading to increased strength and endurance.

2. Normal Muscle Soreness After a Workout: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a typical response to vigorous exercise, especially if you're trying new movements. This soreness generally sets in a day or two after your workout and diminishes over a few days.

3. Pain that Warms Up: If initial discomfort during exercise eases as you warm up and continue moving, it’s generally okay to keep going. This type of pain often indicates that your muscles or joints are just taking time to loosen up.

When to Back Off

1. Sharp or Shooting Pains: If you feel a sudden, sharp pain, especially in a joint or along your spine, it's time to stop and assess. This type of pain can indicate an acute injury or underlying condition that could be exacerbated by continued activity.

2. Pain that Persists or Worsens: Any pain that persists for more than a few days after exercise or worsens with continued activity should be taken seriously. This could be a sign of overuse injury, such as tendonitis or stress fractures, which require rest and professional intervention.

3. Pain Accompanied by Other Symptoms: If your pain is accompanied by swelling, redness, or an unusual range of motion, these are red flags. Also, any systemic symptoms like fever or nausea alongside pain should prompt immediate cessation of exercise and a professional evaluation.

Listening to Your Body

The key to differentiating between good and bad pain is to listen to your body and understand its signals. Cultivating this awareness can help you recognize the difference between pushing your limits and pushing your luck.


At CrossFit MNC, your health and safety are our top concerns. By learning to differentiate between good and bad pain, and listening to what your body tells you, you can continue to challenge yourself without risking long-term setbacks. Remember, it's far better to take a day off and consult a professional when necessary than to push through the wrong kind of pain and end up sidelined for an extended period. Let's prioritize our health as we pursue our fitness goals, ensuring we all stay strong, safe, and active in our community. Keep pushing the limits, but never at the expense of your well-being.

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