Is my pain normal or am I overtraining?

Is there such a thing as good pain and bad pain? Yes, but what is important is knowing the difference between muscular ache/pain from normal training loads and demands, and muscular ache/pain from overtraining/injury.

Muscular pain/ DOMS
Tough training session the day before and struggling to lift your arms to wash your hair or put your jacket on? Yeah we’ve all been there. Generally, muscular pain post exercise can range anywhere on the pain scale from 0-5 and can be incredibly inconvenient but after a few days you will find that this eases off.  This ‘pain’ that you are experiencing here is called delayed onset of muscular soreness (DOMS) and isn’t something to be majorly worried about IF it goes away after 2-3 days.

To define pain, Physiotherapist’s use the VAS scale (visual analogue scale) which ranges from 0-10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the absolute worst pain in the world. To help work out how much pain you are in, I have attached a modified VAS for you.


DOMS occurs after an intense training session which results in the muscles sustaining micro trauma (tiny tears). This leads to an inflammatory response causing swelling, altered muscle firing and that dull ache you commonly feel. Don’t worry these microtears aren’t bad but are actually necessary in order for you to get fitter and stronger. But, they are a nuisance so, how can we get rid of them?

Aiding the recovery of DOMS is simple and can be enhanced by following a few steps:
1. Warm up efficiently
2. Stretch it out
3. Hydrate yourself
4. Cool down efficiently
5. Ice baths (if you’re really brave enough … I am not)
6. Self massage/foam rolling
7. Improve your nutrition

a. Eat blueberries, cherries and other dark fruits which help to eliminate waste products produced during training (don’t consume until an hour after your protein shake or milk as the effects will be nil and void.
b. Consume almonds and nuts to accelerate the repair of damaged tissues
c. Add cinnamon to improve insulin sensitivity for faster tissue repair and glycogen replenishment – add to protein shakes, tea, coffee, yoghurt or place on your veggies.
d. Cook with turmeric and ginger to accelerate recovery with their anti-inflammatory properties

Followed these steps but found that your pain is persisting for more than 4-5 days or is greater than 5 on th VAS scale? Maybe you’ve sustained an injury or are overtraining and this is something that needs to be looked into further.

Overtraining pain
Overtraining is extremely misunderstood and most clients physiotherapists see in their clinics are patients who have injuries as a result of overtraining. It’s so common because we love what we do and as a community you can often hear the phrases ‘circus hurts’ and ‘no pain, no gain’ shouted out across the studio. So, how do we identify overtraining, what are the signs? Difficult question, as overtraining in its early stages is often unrecognisable but,  stage 1 of overtraining can appear as a slight decrease in performance, feeling lethargic, having injuries that never seem to heal or a cold that won’t go away.

If you’re a coach and you know your client well and what their form is generally like, it is important that you can recognise these symptoms and guide them towards a recovery week! They may feel down at first but interestingly, big gains can be made afterwards if true recovery is taken (see previous blog post about how to make the most of your recovery day).

Stage 2 of overtraining can appear as a euphoric episode, where a ‘second wind’ occurs. Due to the increased stresses you’re putting your body under, an increased energy will be felt as the adrenal glands kick into high gear to cope with the extra demands. This can present as an over excited state, feeling restless and a feeling of not requiring any sleep. Whilst this feels fantastic, your high cortisol levels can lead to increased insulin, reducing fat burning and dun dun dunnnnnnn increasing your fat storage! And nobody wants that! If you find yourself desperately craving carbs this say be a sign of being in stage 2 overtraining. To combat this to prevent you heading into stage 3, look at what recovery is going to be required to get you back on track and monitor your dietary requirements accordingly.

Stage 3 results from chronic overtraining. Now stage 3 is very serious and if you see yourself landing in this zone you need to take a step back and fully evaluate your lifestyle and training demands. Stage 3 can lead to serious brain, muscle and metabolic imbalances due to the excessive exhaustive demands being placed upon the body. The most notable side effect of stage 3 is severe exhaustion and can lead to people burning out and potentially taking early retirement from their desired sport as a consequence. Not only that, but, it has the potential to damage your health, increasing your risk of recurrent injuries, recurrent illnesses and infections and increasing your risk of chronic diseases of the major organs. Landing in this zone unfortunately isn’t just a quick fix and can sometimes take athletes years to recover from. A good example I read of an athlete in stage 3 can be found in the link below: 

Now, this blog post isn’t intended to scare you, it’s intended to make you think. Think about how your training is going, what are your energy levels doing? Do you need a rest? A change in diet? Modify your lifestyle? Increase your rest days? It’s YOUR body, listen to it, the signs are there you just need to stop, take a step back and listen.