Working out can be uncomfortable and it’s a fact. Sore muscles for a day or two after exercise are often considered signs of a job well done. After all, reaching for another rep and pushing through another mile is what helps build strength and endurance, right? But how do you distinguish between discomfort and danger? How do you know when your body is telling you it’s not safe to work out? Whether you’re a newbie gym member or a veteran athlete, paying attention to the following warning signs will help you stay safe and avoid injuries.
1. Feeling sick.
If you’re feeling under the weather, there’s a good chance your body is working hard to fight whatever illness has taken hold. Piling on the stress of an intense exercise session is never a good idea when you’re sick. Working out vigorously with a fever, sore throat, nausea, gastrointestinal distress or severe aches and pains could make the symptoms worse and potentially result in a longer healing time. If you have any of these symptoms, prior to your workout, don’t even start. Wait until you’re feeling better and then reintroduce exercise slowly. If you spent a few days or weeks recovering, your fitness level will likely have taken a small hit. Ease back into your routine and avoid the urge to start from where you left off. When you get back in the gym, go with lighter intensity and shorter duration of exercise for a week or two.
2. Ouch! Something hurts.
Pain is typically the body’s way of signaling a problem so you can quickly address whatever is causing it and protect yourself from further harm. There are two general types of pain: acute and chronic. Acute pain is the result of a single or immediate trauma, like a sprained ankle. Chronic pain is the persistence of pain even after the normal amount of healing time (weeks or months depending on the problem). The lower back area is a common site for chronic pain.
In terms of exercising, acute pain is always a warning sign to stop. Sharp, intense pain and/or sudden swelling are often associated with acute trauma. Any attempts to push through these sensations during a workout will only exacerbate the problem and delay healing. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is treated quite differently. In fact, physical activity and exercise programs are increasingly recommended for various types of chronic pain. Check with your doctor or health care provider for physical activity recommendations.
3. Trouble in breathing.
Difficulty breathing could be an indication of a respiratory condition (exercise-induced asthma), a circulatory problem or an exercise intensity that is beyond an individual’s current level of fitness. A normal response to vigorous exercise is heavy breathing. A healthy person’s breathing rate gradually returns to normal shortly after the effort ends. However, gasping for air during minimal exertion or feeling like you’re unable to catch your breath after exercise is a sign of a bigger problem. If you struggle to breathe during exercise, back off the intensity to see if it gets better. If it doesn’t, seek recommendations from your doctor or health care provider.
4. You feel light-headed.
Feeling dizzy or light-headed could be an indication of a cardiovascular, respiratory or low blood sugar problem. If you begin to feel faint during a workout session, stop exercise immediately to avoid passing out. Transition to a comfortable seated or lying position to prevent falling and allow the blood to more readily reach the brain. Seek medical attention, if the feeling persists after the workout. It might go without saying, but if light-headedness is a recurring problem, during a workout or otherwise, get it checked out by a physician.
5. Experiencing chest pain, pressure or discomfort.
In terms of potential seriousness, this warning sign is the most severe. A cardiac event, such as a heart attack, is relatively rare during exercise. It is most likely to occur in a person with underlying heart disease. The problem is people often aren’t aware they have a heart issue, until they experience the warning signs of chest pain, pressure or discomfort. These are more likely to surface during physical exertion than at rest, so a workout might be the first time these symptoms manifest. Experiencing them during a workout session is an indicator to stop exercising immediately and seek medical attention, as this could be a sign of a potentially life-threatening condition. Interestingly, in addition to chest pain (the hallmark symptom of a heart attack), women, especially, are more likely to have other symptoms, such as pain or discomfort in the back, jaw, or throat, as well as a headache, nausea, and coughing. Paying attention to these symptoms and seeking treatment from a health care professional could save your life.