Should I Workout When I’m Sore?

Should I workout when I’m sore?

This is a VERY common question and you are not alone in wanting to know if you should workout when you are experiencing muscle soreness. The first thing to tackle is are you sore or injured? Let’s differentiate!

Soreness or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is a common biological response to exercise. DOMS tends to build over a period of 24-72 hours (hence, delayed) so it is not at all uncommon to experience more soreness a couple days after activity versus immediately. This occurs especially if you are starting an exercise routine after being relatively inactive OR if you are varying the way you exercise and starting something new. Now, it is important to note here that you can be in very good shape and still experience muscle soreness.

For example, I have worked out 6-7 days per week, in my home, for almost 2 years now. These are not easy workouts and definitely build both cardio and muscular strength. This past week we were blessed to spend some time at a beach house for Thanksgiving and while we had our DVD’s handy, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful scenery and run daily instead of our traditional indoor workouts. Now, I haven’t run in…. well, let’s just say long enough to not even be able to give you a date!


I actually felt pretty good while running BUT the next day, SORE! Everything from my IT band to my Achilles, and even my knee! My body was like “what the what are you throwing at us?!”  The second day, SORE..but we ran again. The third day, still SORE (though improving) and we ran again. I have to tell you, I thought about throwing in the towel and not exercising but the athletic trainer in me knew better and I decided to push through and train my body to respond to the trail again.

I can’t tell you how many people I work with that start an exercise routine, experience soreness and decide to rest until it goes away. All that creates is a cycle of inactivity. Workout, get sore, rest for days. Workout, get sore, rest for another few days.  I mean why do that to yourself when if you just keep going, your body will adjust and you’ll be “conditioned”, meaning your body will know what to do in response to the physical activity. I promise that soreness will not last forever so YES! For the love, get up and move!

All right, at the beginning of this post I mentioned that it is important to distinguish soreness from injury. Here is a quick way to know the difference: you will generally not feel soreness until the day following activity (sometimes in the evening the day of) whereas injury you will likely feel immediately and you will almost always experience what is known as an “acute onset”. All that means is that “something happened”, i.e. you can identify your moment of injury. Similarly, there is a “mechanism of injury” or you can explain what happened when the pain started – you stepped off a curb wrong, you slipped and fell, something/someone ran into you, etc. Injury is often accompanied by sharp, specific pain and swelling.  Injury is something to consult with a professional regarding and to determine if activity is appropriate or if rest is indicated.  But, in general, if you cannot explain the onset or mechanism, and did some sort of new-ish physical activity recently, it is likely you are with the rest of us and just experiencing a standard case of DOMS.

And guess what the best cure for soreness is? You got it! MOVEMENT! So get up and exercise!  Give yourself a little longer to warm up, stretch, ease into it, and you’ll notice that the muscles loosen and you can actually do much more than you thought you’d be able to.

If you have any questions that I did not address here please leave your comments below!

Until next time!