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Should I Work Out While I'm Sore?

man stretching on a forest trail

Should I Work out While I’m Sore?

Physical activity and exercise specifically will in most cases leave you with some kind of post-training soreness or stiffness. The degree of soreness will most likely depend on how the stress was inflicted and the extent to which the muscle fibres are broken down during a specific activity.

Sometimes the soreness is a by-product of a particular endeavour, while for some it is a downright must as an indicator of progress.

Yet if you look at the extreme examples of that apparent in something like bodybuilding, it’s well worth noting that with the amount of stress and damage some of these dudes often inflict on themselves in the pursuit of untouchable greatness—albeit purely aesthetic—there are often huge prices to pay injury-wise. This is true at least for the majority of the major competitors in this sport at some point.

But how does this apply to the average guy putting in the training? Should he push boundaries consistently, or should he try not to overdo it—especially when he has a job to go to as well. You may well have asked yourself the question many times before: should I work out while I’m sore?

Why Do Muscles Get Sore After Working out Anyway?

Let’s consider a couple of why and wherefore first off.

Exercise is considered by many as a great form of stress release. However, it’s also another form of stress to the body.

  • Muscle soreness is most commonly experienced between 24 and 72 hours after an intense or new session. This is known scientifically as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and it generally doesn't show up after every
  • The changes that the breakdown of tissues causes occur during the training. The various contractions involved cause microscopic tears in the muscle and connective tissues. Once this damage has occurred, inflammation ensues.
  • The minor injuries are not directly responsible for the soreness, rather it is a side-effect of the repair that is going on. Many believe that muscle soreness is a good sign of progress, which is true to some degree in terms of direct bio-feedback. 

How to Distinguish Muscle Soreness from Joint Pain or Injury

Generally, muscle soreness comes on over time—and is usually most apparent the day after an intense session. Any other kind of pain or injury will be far more instantaneous, often causing you to stop if you are still engaged in training.

Unless you have seriously ripped or torn muscle or even ligament tissue, any sharp or instant pain is usually more likely related to joints or connective tissues and should be addressed immediately.

Setting the Bar to Your Own Height

Whether or not you continue to exercise while sore depends upon the type of damage you are inflicting on what proportion of your body and how long it will likely take to heal etc., etc., etc.

If you are a runner for instance, and find it uncomfortable, difficult, or not even possible to run using good form with the usual full range of motion—without some kind of compromise, that is—then it would be a mistake to put demands on tissue that has already been pushed past its usual limit. This could well add to the process and could inflict further, possibly more serious damage.

Of course your own standards for working through any kind of uncomfortable condition will depend largely upon your chosen method of physical improvement. If you are a runner with significant pain or soreness, you simply can’t run that day.

If you are a martial artist by comparison, you may have disciplined yourself to believe that training is largely about conquering your inner bitch and thus be more likely to train through any soreness or any other niggle.

That said, even in the world of cutting-edge of modern martial arts—MMA—you’ll be more likely to find training camps embracing a newer, more modern approach involving some high-level recovery strategy. Or many this means much less heavy sparring, and more time in cryotherapy chambers and float tanks a la the influential and boundary-pushing Rogan.

The Bottom Line

It’s okay to work out while your muscles are sore—if you can work out. The indicator is largely form, so if the correct form of any given movement you are trying to execute is simply not possible, that’s a fair indication that it’s time to skip a day.

You don’t want to overdo it—nor do you want to give over any space to your inner bitch. It is largely about finding your own balance. You’re more likely to experience significant muscle soreness when you first start with any kind of training, or you change it up in any major way. But over time soreness becomes much less obvious takes much less time to get over.

Ultimately your physical goals should become more about functional strength, optimum health, and extended longevity, rather than constantly being worn out or hurting. Make the changes and remember there’s nothing wrong with pushing past your usual levels in the quest for self-himprovement!  


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