What kind of pain is normal when first beginning an exercise program?

You should not experience pain when starting an exercise program. If you experience pain, you may have gone beyond the limits at which the body can handle and subsequently may have caused damage to tissue.  

You may, however, experience slight muscle soreness and stiffness the days following the start of an exercise program. This is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS. DOMS is common and will slowly begin to subside after 3 days. Once your body has acclimated to the new exercise program, DOMS will become less or become non-existent. When you attempt to increase activity, make it more difficult or attempt new exercises DOMS will likely occur again. This is because the body is not accustomed to this new stimulus.
To allow for optimal progression without developing pain and limiting development of DOMS, NASM has developed a systematic progression model of fitness, called the Optimum Performance Training Model. Using this systematic process will ensure your body is ready to attempt a new exercise and prevent exercise induced pain.  

Eric Olsen

Without doubt, there is a certain amount of discomfort -- some might call it pain -- associated with physical activity. In the lore of pain, this is known as "first-degree pain." You'll probably have some normal muscle tenderness -- the pain of "getting into shape" -- that appears when you start out on an exercise program, or as you change your routine or suddenly increase the duration or intensity of your training. This type of discomfort usually appears a few hours after you've finished a workout and can leave you feeling a bit stiff and sore. It's quite normal and harmless, however.  

This type of tenderness results from several factors, including microscopic tears (microtears) in the muscles and connective tissues and the swelling that results following unfamiliar activity; it lasts a day or so after a workout, and episodes of such discomfort cease once the body becomes more accustomed to the workload. 

When you begin a workout, you may also feel dull aches as blood flows to the muscles, causing the tissues to swell, literally pressing on and stimulating "mechanoreceptors." At the same time, the working muscles begin to produce several enzymes that stimulate chemoreceptors, which can be interpreted as discomfort or pain. As you warm up and the tissues relax, however, this discomfort soon passes. Also, during exercise, the body begins to produce endorphins, the body's own painkillers that counteract the pain messages being sent by other enzymes. 

Fatigue also causes pain. The continued release of enzymes throughout exercise leads to accumulations of these chemicals in the tissues, increasing the stimulation of chemoreceptors and increasing the discomfort. The more intense the activity, the more rapidly these chemicals accumulate and the more intense the discomfort or pain, which is why most of us take to relatively low-intensity endurance activities such as walking, swimming, or cycling rather than sprinting, where the intense pain of anaerobic fatigue is a routine part of a workout.

Lifefit: An Effective Exercise Program for Optimal Health and a Longer Life

More About this Book

Lifefit: An Effective Exercise Program for Optimal Health and a Longer Life

An easy-to-follow programme for lengthening and improving lives. More than an exercise guide, this text is an effective tool for making meaningful lifestyle decisions to benefit long-term fitness. In...

Continue Learning about Types Of Exercise

Americans Urged to Move More, Sit Less
Americans Urged to Move More, Sit Less
Americans need to move more and sit less. That’s been the clear-cut message from government health officials since they issued physical activity guide...
Read More
How do I perform a bench back iso-extension with rotation?
Wendy Batts Wendy Batts
Begin by placing your legs into a back-extension bench. Extend your legs, making sure they are shoul...
More Answers
How do I do a turning lunge, balance to overhead press with alternate arms?
National Academy of Sports MedicineNational Academy of Sports Medicine
Stand with your feet pointed straight ahead and placed shoulder-width apart. Hold a pair of dumb...
More Answers
How Can I Exercise If I Don’t Like the Gym?
How Can I Exercise If I Don’t Like the Gym?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.