It has been quite a while folks. Many goings-on have taken place since I officially posted last and I will get to those in time. For now I am going to jump right into it. I feel this post is extremely important for all exercise enthusiasts, beginners and true veterans alike. I am dealing with this exact situation myself right now and as frustrating as it is, it's crucial to understand.
Well, what is it? It's knowing the difference between being sore and being injured. While you may be thinking that both of those feelings are basically one in the same, you would be wrong and being wrong in this case could lead to some serious problems for you.
I would love to give credit to what I am about to say but I've heard it numerous times in my life. From coaches and fitness sources to yes, even television and movies but it rings true and is sort of a first indicator of whether you're dealing with soreness or an injury. Being sore is a temporary thing. Not just mentally but most importantly physically. Being injured is lasting and prohibits you from completing an action in the manner in which you normally would and is characterized by a direct repetitive pain to a particular location on your body.
This might still sound confusing but once you understand a little more fully the types of pain/soreness and the causes of such, you'll quickly start to understand what I stated above. Soreness is temporary. Injury is lasting.
You can find a very nice article on the levels of soreness as it relates to exercising HERE by Fitknitchick. I am going to talk about the same categories but in even more general terms. There are 3 primary levels of pain and soreness one might encounter while working out. It's important information to understand so that 1. You don't go rushing off to the doctor after every workout session because you think you hurt yourself and you "never want to lift weights again!", and 2. So you do not seriously injure yourself because you don't believe that the pop you just felt in your lower back is really that significant. "Put a 100 more pounds on there. Let's do this!!!"
Also known as "the burn", muscle fatigue is simply that feeling you get at the end of a set when, if you do not finish soon, like in the next 2.5 seconds, you're going to drop the weights on your face and your arms are going to fall off. There is really nothing wrong with muscle fatigue over short bursts and periods of time. Every time you lift weights you should probably be suffering from muscle fatigue. I'm not saying you need to be doing the absolute heaviest weights you can possibly do for every exercise because that would be overdoing it but if you're on rep 55 of your curls and nothing is happening it's time to move up the rack and pick up something heavier.
Muscle fatigue goes away a few seconds after you finish a set(Temporary) and nothing more can really be done about it. Just be cautious and know your limits. While muscle fatigue in and of itself is fine, know that it's causing your muscles to, ya know, fatigue so don't go bench press your max without a spotter when your arms are burning unless you want to seriously injure yourself<<<more on that to come...
Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness
DOMS or in plain English, "I worked out for the first time in months yesterday and now I can't walk" is another level on the soreness/pain scale as it relates to working out and lifting weights. Don't worry if that technical name makes no sense to you, even researchers are still unsure of exactly how it all works. Check this out HERE if you'r super interested in a complicated explanation.
What I do know about it is that it's real. If you are just starting to work out, or are planning on changing up your workout, you will experience DOMS. The worst case for me always happens when I squat for the first time in a while. If you aren't hurting immediately after the workout, do not fret. You'll wake up the next day and have trouble putting one foot in front of the other. And sitting on the couch or trying to slide down into the seat of your car? Forget about it. Just fall over and cry.
But seriously, DOMS can suck pretty bad. With experience though, you'll know that it's a fairly normal thing and after a couple days you'll be good to go. If in fact your pain is just DOMS you'll probably still be sore the next time you're up for the particular lift that made you so sore. Do some light stretching and lower the amount of weight to start but after a few reps, the pain will subside and you'll be on you're way.
Here is the bad guy. This is what you do not want. We've been through "the burn" of pushing through a set and we've even battled the DOMS and are fully into a solid workout regimen. The weeks go by and everything is running smoothly until...something happens. You're in the middle of a set and you feel, seemingly out of nowhere, a pinch, a pop, a pull. Something isn't right. It might not necessarily be too terribly painful but it's there and it isn't normal. You could have something more than muscle fatigue and certainly not DOMS because you notice it right away. This could be an injury and it isn't something to take lightly.
Before I go on, do not take the above as the only possible case to get an injury. You can seriously hurt yourself the next time you pick something up off the floor. You can be working out for the first time or for the 1,000 time. Sometimes, sh*t just happens. And it just happened to me, much like the above description described.
We, my best friend and lifting partner, are coming down the home stretch of a 14-week exercise program (which I cannot wait to share with you). It was Thursday and the second chest day of the week. I love chest workouts. They are by far my favorite and the area I am strongest. During my second set of decline barbell bench I was pushing up the weight on the 3rd rep and felt a sudden pain on the right edge of my pec, right below my armpit. It wasn't a terrible pain but it was there and it was noticeable. I lowered the weight significantly and went for my 3rd set. With every upward push of the weight I could feel the same dull ping right there in the side of my pec.
This is a pretty good sign that some level of muscle strain or tear has taken place. Not necessarily the amount or intensity of the pain but the fact that it does not go away with stretching, that I could pinpoint the exact instant it happened, and that I could replicate the feeling by continuing to bench press.
So why is this important to be able to distinguish this type of pain and soreness from the others? I think the answer is pretty obvious. Do you want to spend any amount of time in a doctor's office? Do you want to stop working out for a significant amount of time? Do you want to experience discomfort for days, weeks, even years? I'm guessing the answer is no to all of those. If you feel you've injured yourself you should probably stop using that muscle or at least minimize the need to use it immediately.
I'm going on one week now with my strain. I tried to do light chest work on Monday and it wasn't ready and I probably set myself back a few extra days. I've done absolutely no upper body work this week which is killing me but I know that if I don't let even a minor strain heal properly I will be out that much longer.
In the end, I think the best way to distinguish between some aches and pains and an actual injury is to have experience. Once you develop an exercise routine you'll start to understand how your body reacts to certain movements and you'll know when something is normal or not. In hindsight, I probably should have been a little more cautious. I have a bad right shoulder from pitching too much in baseball when I was younger and from time to time I'll over train it and it will ache for a couple extra days but I can usually get through it and it works itself out. I was having one of those days when decline chest day came. Decline bench uses a significant amount of shoulder strength to complete. I think my body knew my shoulder was a little off and compensated by putting all the stress of the lift into my chest instead of balancing it between the two which led to the strain.
Listen to your body! Don't use every little spell of soreness as an excuse to take days off but become familiar with the seriousness of the pains your body is feeling and work with them. Fatigue and soreness can be good but know when to stop before they take over and develop into injury.
Do you have any similar situations that have happened to you? Leave them in the comments below. Many people out there are wondering what the pain they're dealing with may be. Let's give them all the info we can!