You #RiseAndGrind every day and embrace it no matter how much it hurts. After all, you have goals to crush—and no one ever regrets a workout, right?
Wrong. Fitness fans don’t cop to it often, but people regret workouts all the time, and cause serious damage in the process. And there’s nothing worse than being sidelined with an injury that you could have actually prevented.
So how do you know the difference between a burn you can push through and something more serious? When is “quitting” (whether that means taking a break mid-class, or stepping away from a particular kind of exercise altogether) not wussing out, but rather being smart about what really, truly nourishes your body?
We tapped Daniel Giordano, founder of Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy in New York City, to give us the scoop on when a workout is doing more harm than good.
Here are the 5 red flags you cannot afford to ignore.
1. Any pain that feels shooting or stabbing
The absolute number one red flag on Giordano’s list? Shooting, radiating, or knife-like pain. “You have to stop and see a medical doctor,” says Giordano—even if you’re in the middle of a workout. (If you’re taking a class, don’t worry about it being an etiquette breach. Just politely excuse yourself and tell the instructor what you’re feeling.) Why? “It can indicate a nerve issue,” Giordano says. “[The injury] could be coming from somewhere else, causing the shooting pain to move. If you continue to work out and the pain gets worse, you could cause more irritation.”
2. Bruising when you didn’t bump into anything
If you feel any kind of a twinge, then notice a bruise in that area even though you didn’t bump into anything, you need to put your workout(s) on hold. “Anytime there’s bruising, it usually means there’s some sort of internal tear,” says Giordano. “It could be a small, tiny, micro-tear and your body just needs a few days of rest—or it could be a full tear.” The only way to know is to lay off for a bit, and check with a doctor or physical therapist as needed.
3. Pain that forces you to switch up your form
It’s common to tweak something early on in a workout that quickly fades away. But a pain that lingers—or gets worse—is not good, and needs to be checked out. Partly, it’s to keep you from adjusting your form (i.e., adjusting your stride, pushing off more on one side of the spin bike, or shifting your posture at the barre) to try and offset the pain—which can do even more damage. “That state of compensation can cause a lot of chronic pain,” Giordano says.
4. Pain that affects your daily activities
If you’re ever in pain to the point where it interferes with your day-to-day activities, especially your sleep, that’s a bad sign. “You need sleep to recover and if you’re unable to, it’s a sign that something’s wrong,” says Giordano. Lay off for a few days, and when you do pick things back up again, remember to give yourself recovery time in between sweat sessions. Eat well, hydrate, and foam roll. “Foam rolling will break up any adhesions, knots, or trigger points in your tissue, and your body will relax,” Giordano says.
The good kind of tired you feel after you’ve rocked a workout is awesome. But if you feel yourself dragging through your days, you’ve gone too far. Exhaustion is a clear sign that you’re overtraining. And it’s not just bad for your muscles; it’s dangerous for your mind. “You can go from a state of endorphins—so you’re uber happy when you’re working out—to a state of depression,” says Giordano. “I’ve seen that happen with a lot of people in boutique fitness. They work out so much that they burn themselves out, and it leads to a state of anxiety and mood problems.”
Remember: Rest, eat well, and hydrate. “You should feel fine after 48 hours or so of recovery,” he says. “But if you’re not recovered after 48 to 72 hours, then you want to go see a medical professional.”
When you’re ready to get going again, here’s how to actually make morning workouts happen. Or, if you’re looking for a mood boost, the Happiness Workout is worth a try.