We’re always being encouraged to challenge ourselves and push our limits in life, and the same applies for exercise.
Embracing different training methods and working just a little harder is how we get stronger, fitter and faster. Despite all the obvious benefits, this approach also has its risks. If you go too hard, you could go home… nursing a fresh, painful injury.
It’s important to know the difference between normal pain and risking a sprain, so we asked the experts for some pointers.
When you’re sweating it out and feeling the burn, it can be hard to tell when you’ve crossed the line or if you’re unknowingly putting yourself at risk of injury. Here are some indicators or risk factors to be mindful of:
1. You’re lacking ‘grunt power’
“The key thing is to look at your energy levels and your overall body fatigue, and whether you’re lacking stamina and motivation,” explains personal trainer to the stars, Cameron Byrnes.
“If you have the mindset that you can do this and you want to push yourself hard but you’re not getting that extra ‘grunt power’ you’re used to, it could be a sign your body’s not coping or recovering properly.”
Lacking your usual 'grunt'? You might be going too hard.
In this case you won't necessarily feel physical pain, but there's an element of not being able to physically perform the way you think you should. And if you disregard this and keep going, you could do some damage.
2. You're not eating enough
Byrnes says in many cases, feelings of fatigue and overdoing it are actually symptomatic of your nutrition — more specifically, the nutrition your body is lacking to physically perform. Exercise more + eat less might seem like a logical equation for achieving fitness or weight goals, but it's kind of like driving for long distances on an empty petrol tank.
"If you're not eating enough calories, you won't be giving your body enough fuel so you'll be burning more calories than you have. This causes your metabolism to drop, and the your body goes into protective mode," he explains.
3. You have lingering pain
Of course, a bit of muscle pain during exercise is to be expected — in fact, this is often an indication of the muscles being worked and challenged. Similarly, it's common to feel a bit sore for a day or two after a workout, which is often a result of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and will naturally decrease.
However, if the pain increases or persists past that, this could be a sign you've hurt yourself without realising. "If you're having to modify your activities, or it's restricting your normal range of movement, that's likely an injury and you should seek medical assistance," says Ali Cavill, health and fitness expert at Fit Fantastic.
This kind of injury commonly results from upping your intensity, weights, or the type of training you do. Cavill says people will sometimes keep pushing through the pain, without realising it's not normal, because they've been told a bit of soreness is to be expected.
4. Your technique isn't on point
A good way to tell if you're overdoing it is looking at whether you're able to perform that particular workout correctly, using the right technique — for instance, the recommended number of repetitions or weights.
"For example, if you can't do squats for the full range, then perhaps your weight is too heavy, so take it back. That will prevent injury," Cavill explains.
Technique is important.
Byrnes adds that your range of motion can be a good indicator of whether you've taken things too far; especially if you're new to exercise in general or a particular workout. "Be aware of any tightness in your body and your range of motion. If you experience sharp pain or tightness, pull back and maybe take a break from that particular area," he says.
"Maybe even get a massage or give that area a massage yourself with some moisturiser — if it comes good, that suggests your frequency with that area or that workout is too intense, so you might want to look at your technique."
5. Jumping straight into new training techniques
Love your daily yoga practice but have a sudden urge to try CrossFit? That's great, but go easy.
"A big mistake is jumping into something totally different and going full steam ahead. My advice would be to pick a workout to do, then gradually increase your volume — increase your reps, the duration, the weight, and aim for a personal best of what you're already doing before completely changing your training style," Byrnes says.
"If you want to try something new, give yourself a 'warm up week', but don't give it all you've got. You have to give your body time to adapt and get familiarised with it before you push yourself."
That said, it is wise to diversify your training routine, because if you do the same workout every single day it can be hard to know when you've taken things too far. "If you do Pump on a Monday, for example, you probably shouldn't do it again until Wednesday because that gives your muscles the chance to change and giving your body the chance to let you know if you've got an injury," Cavill says.
When to pull back
Obviously, some workout injuries present immediately, like if you roll your ankle or fall off a machine and hear a cracking sound. In these cases, you should cease the activity and seek medical help if necessary. However, when it comes to minor injuries, you don't necessarily have to pull back together.
"With some injuries you might go back to your workouts and that's when you'll realise; you'll do the exercise and you feel the same pain. If you're not sure what it is but you still want to exercise, you could ease into it or do a lighter weight and see," Cavill says.
Listen to your body.
"Some injuries you can ride through — it might be a tiny tear in the muscle but that's what we need anyway to improve and get stronger. A lot of fitness professionals will say they're able to do a different kind of exercise, so you'll get runners who come in to do cycling instead."
Ultimately, listen to your body: if something feels different to what you're used to, it's probably worth having a professional look into it.
"My advice would be don't guess. Don't guess how much food you should be eating, don't guess whether your pain is normal — always get a second opinion and always seek advice," Byrnes says.