by Katie Hoehn December 14, 2022 5 min read
One of the biggest factors in successfully reaching your fitness goal is consistency!
But what happens when you’re feeling sore from your last workout? While you may be wondering if you should just call it a rest day ... in many cases, you can actually find relief faster if you keep moving!
So can you work out when you're sore? The answer is yes, you can. Now should you work out when you're sore? That depends.
I'll explain everything you need to know to make sure you're making the right decision when it comes to training when you're sore...
Feeling overly sore from that last workout? This could be a great time to implement some “active recovery.”
But what is active recovery? Well, active recovery involves things like:
These activities can help reduce muscle stiffness and get the blood flowing.
Blood carries two things around your body: oxygen and nutrients. When you get the blood flowing with some light movement, you get oxygen and nutrients to the muscles sooner … which can help with recovery!
You can also do lighter resistance training, working different muscle groups. For example, the day after I do cycling, I program in an upper body workout. As long as you can still move through a full range of motion, and your sore muscles aren’t compromising your form, you can work other muscle groups.
Now, there are times when rest is best. With phrases like “push through the pain” or “no pain, no gain”, it’s important to really self-assess if the pain is from muscle soreness or a possible injury.
Muscle soreness can occur from adding in new movements or increasing the intensity of your exercise. Some popular ways to do this would be by adding more weight or volume to your training.
Soreness can set in after a few hours (aka acute muscle soreness) or you might not feel it until the next day. This type of soreness is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS for short) and can last 24 to 72 hours after training.
Acute muscle soreness can be described as that burning sensation you get when working out from a buildup of metabolites in your body. This type of soreness comes on quickly and goes away quickly.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) comes from creating micro trauma or microscopic tears in the muscles fibers and connective tissue.
DOMS can feel like tender muscles, a reduced range of motion from feeling stiff, inflammation within muscles, and muscle fatigue.
When it comes to the saying “no pain, no gain”, there is some truth.
Breaking down muscle and creating these microscopic tears is part of building muscle tissue. The more you do an exercise and push through the short-lived pain, the more your muscles will adapt and become stronger over time.
So a little bit of discomfort from acute pain and DOMS is okay ... but we also have to gauge whether the pain can lead to overuse or even worse … injury.
Being sore isn’t necessarily a sign of a good workout. Your pain might be an injury if:
• Pain lasts for more than three days
• Is sharp, tingly, or numb
• Shows signs of bruising
• Significant swelling
• Is recurring
It’s best to talk to your doctor to assess whether it’s an injury if you have any of the above symptoms. Since movement truly is medicine ... a physical therapist may recommend gentle movements, corrective exercise, or help you modify movements as part of a rehab plan.
When you are more sore than usual and continue to push through the pain for days on end … you can run the risk of overreaching. Eventually, this can cause overtraining.
With overreaching, you may feel run down and more tired and fatigued than usual. Overtraining occurs when you ignore this and continue to push the limits. You may see a drop in your workout performance, feel like you have “heavy” or “dead” legs, and feel like things aren’t as fun as they once were.
Overtraining impacts your entire body, trust me ... I speak from experience, and it is no fun. With overtraining, you may also experience:
• Increased blood pressure
• Increased heart rate
• Amenorrhea or irregular periods (for the ladies)
• Loss of appetite
• Weakened immune system
It can take months to recover from a bout of overtraining, not just a few rest days. Which brings us to the importance of proper recovery from training and when to rest...
To prevent muscle soreness (and injury), make sure you have a proper warm up. A few dynamic movements like lunges, push ups, or even walking will get the joints and muscles primed for movement.
A proper cooldown can also be very beneficial. This can be as easy as 5 minutes of walking or biking followed by some static stretches. I always recommend stretching the hamstrings, quads, and shoulders to lengthen your muscles.
You can also use a foam roller or a massage gun to reduce acid buildup, inflammation or muscle tightness. If you can tolerate some temporary discomfort for more relief … ice baths can also help reduce symptoms of DOMS!
Then, the days following you can have a rest day that includes walking, easy biking, yoga, or other low-impact movements.
These active rest days are just as important as the workouts when it comes to recovery! It’s recommended to take a rest day every 3 to 5 days if you do moderate to intense workouts.
Your nutrition also plays a huge role in recovery and soreness. Having a diet rich in protein, carbohydrates, and antioxidants from a wide variety of foods will help keep you feeling your best.
Rehydrate, refuel, repair, and rest had been coined the "4 R’s" of post-exercise nutrition to maximize your gains and overall recovery .
Here's what you should focus on after your workout...
For one, make sure you replenish any lost electrolytes and fluids after your workout to prevent muscle cramping.
Also, refuel your muscle glycogen stores (otherwise known as energy stores) with carbohydrates. The amount you may need will vary depending on the workout. However, carbohydrates give your body the energy it needs to begin repairing muscle.
On top of carbs and electrolytes ... you'll also need plenty of protein. Protein will help repair the damage done to your muscles from the workout. The combination of these 3 components is why I always use Phormula-1 and Ignition after my training sessions.
If you pair these things with a good night's sleep ... you'll be ready to crush your next workout in no time.
I hope you feel confident in how you should tackle muscle soreness and whether or not you should rest or press on. If you have questions on how to program your workouts to get optimal recovery, reach out to us!
Bonilla DA, Pérez-Idárraga A, Odriozola-Martínez A, Kreider RB. The 4R's Framework of Nutritional Strategies for Post-Exercise Recovery: A Review with Emphasis on New Generation of Carbohydrates. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Dec 25;18(1):103. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18010103. PMID: 33375691; PMCID: PMC7796021.
Katie Hoehn Registered Dietitian ACE Certified Personal Trainer ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist ACE Youth Fitness Specialist 1st Phorm App Advisor