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How to tell when you're pushing yourself too far at the gym

How to tell when you're pushing yourself too far at the gym

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During your workout, it is important to occasionally push yourself outside of your comfort zone to maximize the effectiveness of the workout and enhance your fitness level.

It’s also important to know the difference between pushing yourself to get the most out of your workout, and going too far.

When I was a novice exerciser, I often confused the difference between “feeling the burn” and pushing my way to injury. I heavily subscribed to the sentiment, “no pain, no gain,” so I thought a certain amount of pain was synonymous with effective exercising.

However, after earning my exercise science degree and becoming a certified personal trainer, I learned that no exercise is designed to hurt you or cause pain. Therefore, any sharp pains or extreme discomfort I felt during my workout were a sign to discontinue the movement, not to keep pushing.

To decipher the difference between muscular burn and nearing injury, listen to your body. If you feel a slight burn and some muscular fatigue, this is a sign to safely proceed with the workout. However, if you feel a sharp pain or extreme muscular or joint discomfort and strain, stop.

It’s also important to know the difference between having normal heart rate elevation and fatigue from high-intensity exercise, and feeling dangerously lightheaded or overtaxed.

When my clients are sweating and breathing heavily during our more intense training sessions, I usually don’t become concerned unless they show signs of excessive fatigue. Feeling lightheaded, dizzy and overheated is in an indication that it’s time to rest.

For my older clients and those new to exercise, I use the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale.

The RPE scale is a self-rated system that ranges from one to 10, with one indicating feeling like the body is at rest, and 10 indicating maximal exertion. I recommend that my clients fall no higher than an eight on the scale. If you’re beginning to move into the nine or 10 range of RPE, rest is necessary.

How the body feels after your workout is also a helpful indicator of whether greater intensity is necessary, or if you’re pushing yourself too hard.

A certain amount of muscle soreness is normal after an intense workout. However, extreme soreness and stiffness that lasts several days may be a sign that you’re pushing your way toward over-training.

I recommend using your post-workout condition as a guide to set the intensity of your next workout session.

Brittany Baldwin is a certified personal trainer with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Creighton University. She writes regularly for

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