Push Through Discomfort, Not Pain

The following is a guest post by fellow Personal Trainer and volunteer S&C Coach, Brendan Pinto. In this article, Brendan discusses the difference between pain and discomfort, and how to assess the feedback your body provides during exercise. As always, enjoy! – Austin


By: Brendan Pinto

Randy Zab, my dryland coach when I was an age group swimmer, would put us through grueling core exercises at the end of our dryland sessions. At this point, we would all struggle to hold a plank. Some would just give up and say they couldn’t do it because it hurt too much. In order to get us to do it without giving up he would tell us to “push through discomfort, not pain”.

We don’t only feel pain and discomfort when we are fatigued. Usually athletes or clients will complain of “pain” while doing an exercise with the onset of the slightest uneasiness. There is no doubt that the best step of action to take is to stop the exercise and avoid injury. No one likes being injured, but how do we know if the “pain” we feel is actually pain or just discomfort?


Feedback from the body is your body trying to communicate with you to tell you something. Any feedback is important and we should be able to differentiate between the different feedback we receive, instead of classifying everything under one category, like classifying any uneasiness we feel as “pain”.

Knowing how to differentiate between pain and discomfort is also beneficial when it comes to training for performance. If you stop exercise every time you feel “pain”, and it happens often, then your training will suffer and you won’t be able to progress. As athletes, it is important to be able to discern and make a distinction between pain and discomfort in order to maximize performance.

Here are a few things to consider the next time your body tries to talk to you:

1.  Describe the “Pain”

  • Where is the “pain”?
  • Is it a joint pain?
  • Is it muscle tightness?
  • Is it superficial or deep?
  • Did it happen before, during, or after the exercise?

These are the questions to ask when feeling any uneasiness or tightness during exercise. Describing the “pain” helps you discern the severity and figure out how to treat the “pain”.

Muscle tightness and soreness is not uncommon while exercising at high intensity levels and with heavy loads. However, joint pain or shocking nerve pain can be serious and require further therapy or medical examination.

2. Assess Form

“Is my form OK?” is the most frequent question asked when people feel “pain” during an exercise. Bad form can stress the wrong body parts and cause tightness and pain in the muscles and joints.

Take time to analyze form. Flaws in form are evident under heavy loads but most of the time the same flaws can be caught under light loads if you look hard enough. Waiting until you perform your 1 Rep Max to find flaws in your form increases your risk of injury.

3. Are You Used to the Exercise?

It’s easy to tell when you are working a muscle. When you finish your 100th bicep curl, you know you were working your biceps because of the tightness you feel in your arms after you rack the weights. Sometimes though, people feel this tightness in places they don’t expect. This is because movement is complex and requires more than just one muscle.

If you aren’t used to using a muscle or a group of muscles due to poor movement, inactivity, or coming off rehab from an injury, your muscles will be not be able to cope with the stress you are applying on them. When people feel this unexpected working of a different muscle group they fear they are doing it wrong and are hurting themselves.

You need to be aware of what could possibly be causing the muscle tightness or uneasiness. This means knowing your injury history and considering different things that could have caused this effect. Taking a short break in between sets to roll out a tight muscle will usually help to release the muscle and allow you to continue working out.


Ask yourself a few questions before deciding to stop exercise due to “pain” and decide whether it is really pain you are feeling or just discomfort. Knowing what is causing the uneasiness will help you prevent it and will also help you decide whether you should stop the exercise or make a change in order to continue. Being able to know if you are feeling discomfort, and not serious injury causing pain, will help you stay on track with your training regimen and increase performance.


How do you discern between pain and discomfort? Have any questions for Brendan? Comment below and remember to “like” us on facebook!

530382_10150262838329963_38232734_nBrendan Pinto is a Personal Trainer, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Varsity swimmer and Honours Kinesiology student at the University of Waterloo. He has worked with a number of individuals ranging from beginners to varsity athletes. Brendan enjoys swimming, CrossFit, Olympic lifting and Costco. He hopes to someday become a Strength and Conditioning coach.

Want to read more from Brendan? Click here to check out his personal blog.


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