Pain or Soreness? How to prevent injury


Are you sore or are you in pain? Making the distinction can be the difference between sustaining injury and staying healthy.

In any sport or physical activity aches and pains are bound to occur; it’s just the nature of physical exertion. Add in the intensity/complexity of a CrossFit workout (which amps up load, speed and fatigue) and there’s an increased risk for aches and pains. Despite this, there is no reason why injury rates should be any higher in CrossFit than in other lower intensity activities. Ensuring proper form and technique and building a solid strength base over time (modify to your ability when necessary), should be a no-brainer and will reduce the injury rate dramatically. Additionally, sufficient warmup and stretching is of the utmost importance.

But what about those days when despite moving as perfectly as possible, you are just feeling beat up and sore? Should you take the day off (potentially missing out on increased gains), or push through the discomfort and continue training (potentially running the risk of injury)?

The answer lies somewhere in the middle and is largely dependent on your body awareness. Knowing your body plays a big part in determining when to push and when to ease off.

Let’s look at the example of the short-term timeline (i.e. immediately during movement). When completing the movement, ask yourself is it painful or sore? Painful being a sharp, shooting pain that immediately prevents you from moving how you typically would. Sore being a dull ache that is distracting, but not debilitating. Painful movements should be stopped immediately and substituted with pain-free movements that target a different muscle group (or activity should be stopped all together). Sore movements should be assessed further to see if the discomfort gets better with movement or persists/gets worse. If the former, continue carefully with the movement (ensuring proper warmup and stretching has also been performed). If the latter, try modifying the movement to something pain-free or ease off the intensity.

To wrap up:

  • If you’re experiencing sharp, shooting pain that prevents full movement – stop what you’re doing immediately.
  • Achy muscles that allow movement and improve movement are OK, but you should proceed with awareness – i.e. sufficient warmup and stretching and emphasis on proper form.
  • Aches and soreness that get worse with movement should be investigated further. That may mean stopping the movement, modifying it or easing off the intensity.


These are general guidelines, yet they can assist you in safely mitigating painful movements, or even better, in avoiding injury.

If you’re unsure about whether you’re experiencing pain or soreness, do not hesitate to consult a healthcare specialist for further advice and help. This summary is meant to provide some assistance into movement choices, not as a substitute for a proper assessment.


Kyle Woeller is a coach and RMT at Alchemy CrossFit



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