You’ve probably heard the term “No Pain, No Gain” in reference to exercising at some point in your life. While this concept remains popular, it shouldn’t be followed. Why? What could happen if you practice this model? What should you do instead?

When it comes to exercise, many people believe that to achieve their fitness goals, they need to push themselves to the point of feeling pain. In fact, we often judge the effectiveness of our workouts by our level of soreness the next day. This whole concept is based on the idea of “no pain, no gain,” which came to prominence in the early 1980s thanks to Jane Fonda’s aerobic workout videos. During the sessions, she would urge viewers to “feel the burn.” Two different processes are going on.

The first item is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It typically occurs a day or two after exercise and can last up to 48 hours. It’s most frequently felt when you begin a new exercise program, change your routine, or dramatically increase the duration or intensity of your workout. DOMS is a normal response to unusual exertion and is part of the body’s adaptation process that leads to increased strength or endurance as muscle recover and hypertrophy. It’s important to monitor the duration of the soreness. Keep in mind the soreness doesn’t necessarily indicate a good workout. Instead, it means you’ve done something your body isn’t used to.

The other thing that happens is exercise-induced hyperlactatemia (EIH), which refers to an excess of lactic acid in the blood. When you push your muscle to work beyond their ability to use oxygen delivered in the blood, it creates lactic acid, which gives you that burning sensation. This “burn” in muscle should be short-lived and resolve soon after the activity ends. Besides the burning sensation, you might have muscle fatigue, muscle soreness, muscle cramps, or nausea during or after exercise.

Although it can cause discomfort, once the liver has broken down the excess lactic acid, the body then disposes of it, and the symptoms disappear. The production of lactic acid plays a role in creating more blood flow to the muscles so that you gain more strength and endurance next time. For those who exercise regularly, EIH occurs when they push a little harder than they usually do. It’s important to realize that if you exercise regularly and don’t feel any pain, it means that you’ve probably plateaued. You’re still benefiting by maintaining your conditioning.

However, if you want to do better and get stronger, you have to push harder since your body will adapt to the demands you regularly impose on it. Fatigue after a good, strenuous workout is a sign that the exercise is pushing the limits of your physiology, but it shouldn’t be too excessive. Basically, it should leave you somewhat exhilarated but not overly exhausted.

It’s vital to realize there’s a considerable difference between muscle soreness and discomfort from exercise and pain caused by an injury. A misconception about pain during a workout is that you simply need to work through it. Pain is your body’s protective mechanism, warning you to ease the intensity or protect an injured part of the body. It’s critical to listen to your body and not ignore these signals. Resisting these warnings risks damaging tissue and may cause your body to over-compensate with other movements that aggravate the injury and lengthen healing time.

There are several types of pain you should be aware of that indicate a serious problem. The biggest one is severe or sharp pain because it means that something is stressed, inflamed, damaged, or sensitive. If you have sharp pain that prevents you from moving a body part, decreases your range of motion, or prevents you from moving altogether, this is another sign something is wrong. Some other causes for concern would be if you have pain in an area that was previously injured or where you’ve had surgery or pain associated with deformity, massive swelling, or bruising.

If you don’t have pain relief after several days of rest, ice, or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, this is also a sign that something more serious is wrong. If the pain is constant, worsening in severity, or so intense that it causes nausea and vomiting, you should seek medical treatment. Another sign that may suggest a more significant problem is the development of weakness, tingling, or numbness since it can indicate nerve problems. When stretching, if you have pain that feels like tissue is being pulled apart, it can imply an injury. If you’re feeling chronically tired after excessive exercise, you’re probably overtraining.

So, if you feel pain during exercise, stop what you’re doing and see how you’re feeling. Be sure to note the location of the pain. Is the pain in a joint or your muscle? A good workout should cause your muscles to fatigue, not your joints and tendons. If you think you can, try resuming the activity. However, if the pain persists, stop your workout for the day.

If you do find yourself sore after a challenging workout, there are things that you can do to help with the discomfort. The first step is not to do the exercise that caused the soreness or other exercises that work the same muscles. The length of time depends on the severity of the pain. Other ideas are massage, ice baths, and RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation). You can also try non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen or naproxen).

While all of these can temporarily help reduce the effects of muscle soreness, they won’t speed up healing. It’s important to keep in mind that inflammation is your body’s way of healing injuries. So, you may not want to get rid of it completely. The soreness will go away by itself within a few days. If you’re having to ice often or take medications frequently, this can indicate something serious that a physician should evaluate.

Most people don’t realize that resting is just as important as the workout itself, even if you’re not sore. It’s the only way to ensure your muscles are ready to go the next time. While resting is vital, it’s also essential to move and maintain your range of motion as much as possible. This is where recovery workouts can help and, in some cases, prevent or reduce soreness. This increases blood flow, which helps to clear lactic acid from them. Examples are yoga, stretching, resistance band exercises, walking, easy hiking, swimming laps, or easy cycling. You can also focus on muscle groups that you didn’t work on previously. You don’t want to do exercises that aggravate the problem.

You can do things to reduce your chances of having muscle soreness and injury. One of the crucial elements is to warm up before exercising. The next important thing is staying hydrated before, during, and after your workouts. You also should do a cool down and stretch after each workout session. Cooldowns gradually bring your heart rate down and adjust your body back to a resting state. This can help clear out lactic acid from the body.

Whether you’re starting a new routine or increasing the intensity of your current one, the critical step is to start low and go slow. This means you start at a low intensity and duration and slowly ramp up your time and effort to build endurance. Make sure you’re not repeating the same exercise every day. It’s vital to have the proper technique to avoid injuries. As we get fatigued during a workout, our form suffers, and stress injuries can occur. When doing exercises, concentrate on performing them correctly. As soon as you are no longer capable of doing this, you should stop.

If you think that the only way to improve your fitness level is to work to the point of collapse every time, you are seriously mistaken. The key is to build up a good base fitness level. The better your base fitness level, the more intense you can make your training. It’s not necessary to push yourself to your pain threshold or beyond.

For resistance training, you need to get your body out of its comfort zone to set the adaptation. If you do a proper strength training workout to fatigue your muscles, your body will be forced to improve. Just make sure to give your muscles plenty of time to recover before attempting your next strength training session targeting those muscles. For stretching, the basic rule is to stretch until you feel mild tension. You should never feel pain.

Ways to measure a good workout is by progress with things such as resistance level, number of repetitions, or duration. These can be tracked over time to show improvement. Small incremental improvements are what you need. For instance, if you’re used to walking a mile, try an extra tenth of a mile, or pick up the pace to make your mile time quicker. When it comes to repetitions, your goal is a weight initially where you can perform three sets of 10 repetitions with good form. As your strength increases, you increase your repetitions to three sets of 15 reps. Once you can do this with good form and ease, it’s time to make a slight increase in the weight, drop your repetitions back to 10, and then repeat the process.

A general rule is that if a workout left you sore and unable to do your regular training for days afterward, it didn’t benefit you. Remember, a little soreness is perfectly acceptable—unbearable soreness is not. Also, working rest and recovery days should be a part of your regular exercise routine because they’ll allow you to perform better the next time. Remember that consistency will enable you to get results when it comes to exercise!