How to Push Through the Pain (Without Injury)

The old mantra “no pain, no gain” isn’t always true. As an athlete, especially at the top tier, in any sport there is usually some level of pain. Maybe it’s a baseball player taking the field with an injured finger or a hockey player who goes back on the ice after breaking a few ribs. (Seriously, those guys are nuts.)

If you’re not a professional athlete, pushing yourself past your comfort level in weightlifting, powerlifting and CrossFit can be uncharted territory. Yes, if you’re consistently training hard, soreness and even discomfort can be part of your daily routine. But there’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured.

Here’s how to differentiate good pain from bad pain and what to do about both.


You feel something sharp and/or sudden pain during a workout or lift.

This isn’t a good sign. It’s perfectly normal to feel pain during a workout (what is the assault bike purpose if not to make your quads cry?) but that sharp, throbbing feeling isn’t the same thing.

Don’t push through this and don’t be a hero. Go get it checked by someone you trust as soon as possible.

“Just keep going” is not always the answer.

You feel worse as you get going and warm up. 

This is often one of the main symptoms in overuse injuries like tendonitis. The area could be angry and inflamed or more seriously injured.  So, if no amount of warmup and mobility is alleviating your angry knee, pushing through a set of back squats isn’t a great idea.

Unfortunately, rest and time are going to be your friend if you have a nagging issue that doesn’t get better as you get your blood flowing.

Again, go get yourself checked out. The upside is if your PT determines the issue is just in your knee (or shoulder) you can easily work around the injury.

How to deal: “For a while, I had to put on this front where, ‘Everything is ok and I’m happy and everything is fine’ but literally after surgery I fell into kind of a bad place. I literally stayed inside for the first three or four days,” said CrossFit Games athlete Jamie Hagiya, who tore her Achilles tendon in 2011.

“And I remember one time I was in the car and everyone was saying ‘Everything’s going to be OK, you’ll come back’, and I just did not want to hear that. So I was just crying and yelled ‘Everything is NOT OK!’ and I feel like that let me [move on].

“It’s a hard journey—you’re going to feel mad, frustrated, angry, all these feelings. Allow yourself to feel bad, because once you cry or get mad about it, that will release something. You cry about it, and then you’re able to move on. I think that’s part of the healing process. It’s a huge part allowing yourself to feel that way and it’s ok to feel that way and then you move on from there. After that, it’s about what can you do [to work around it].”



You can barely move out of bed the next morning. And the one after that. 

It’s not always the most fun part of training, but soreness that lasts 2-3 days after a really heavy workout or competition is totally normal. Anytime you train you’re causing tiny little micro-tears in your muscles that need to be repaired.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) comes after doing unusually intense training or using muscles you normally don’t. Go rock climbing once and your forearms may burn for days. But if you add it to your training twice a week at the same intensity and you won’t get nearly the same result.

If you’re a CrossFit athlete, the constantly varied portion means you’re probably more likely than other athletes to deal with DOMS. Again, that’s fine. What’s not fine is extreme soreness that goes beyond 72 hours, especially if the area(s) is still painful to touch. That’s when it becomes concerning.

The pain gets better when you warm up and get going. 

This could be tendonosis (commonly misdiagnosed as tendinitis). It could be a faulty movement pattern, tightness or being out of alignment. (For example, your right shoulder feels fine after your open your thoracic spine a little bit.) Regardless, if the pain subsides when you warm up, that’s typically good news.

But that doesn’t mean if your hamstring pain subsides that it’s time to max out your deadlift. You still want to be smart and cognizant of what your body is telling you. We are so focused on building muscle that joint and tendon health is often shoved to the side.

Look at your programming for potential holes. Get the movement(s) that’s gave you the initial problem analyzed by someone you trust. Keep moving if it brings your relief but know that if you don’t address the root of the problem your good pain is going to turn bad real quick.

How to deal:  Get out of the mindset that every workout has to hurt to be a good one. Also, take a good look at your recovery. If you’re waking up with a new pain every morning or are dealing with DOMS as a daily thing, you’re probably overtrained under-recovered (or both).

Sleep and nutrition aren’t sexy subjects but they are critical in muscle repair. If you’re going to push your body to the limit and then not allow it to rebuild properly, how can you expect to not get hurt?




Note: This article is not meant to treat, diagnosis or cure any injury or illness. Athlete Daily are not doctors, physical therapists or medical magicians. (But we do have some friends who are.)