Should You Workout When You Are Sore?

Anyone who has hit the gym with vigor or participated in a high intensity workout program has experienced muscle soreness. Some people jump right back into rigorous training the next day while others sit it out until their muscles are no longer sore. When it comes down to it, the age old question remains, “Should I workout with sore muscles or should I wait?”

Two Causes of Muscle Soreness

There are two causes for muscle soreness and the first thing you need to do is identify which one you’re asking about.


#1 – Lactic Acid Buildup

Muscle soreness can be experienced during exercise. This is the burning sensation you feel while pumping weights or running hard. This type of muscle pain is caused by a buildup of lactic acid within the muscles. As you workout, your muscles burn up most of the available oxygen, which is a condition called anaerobic glycolysis, and the result is an increase in lactic acid which cannot be effectively flushed out.

This kind of muscle soreness can easily be worked through. You can also quickly disperse the lactic acid by slowing down and continuing to move. This is the main reason that it is important to practice cooling down periods by walking or doing other light exercise after a hard workout. As you “cool down”, oxygen returns to your muscles and the lactic acid breaks up and is eliminated, providing relief.


#2- Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

The type of muscle soreness that shows up the next day and lasts from a couple days to a week or more is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. DOMS is a result of microscopic muscle tears within the muscle fibers which occurs during exercise and weight training.

This is a very natural and even desirable result since the way to increase muscle mass is to tear down the muscle fibers through intense exercise. Bodybuilders wanting to accumulate muscle mass actually seek to bring their muscles to, or near to, complete failure. Once this is accomplished, the damaged muscles seek to repair and grow after the workout so that they are equipped to take on that amount of stress again in the future.

If you are experiencing muscle soreness due to muscle damage from high intensity exercises then you should allow them to recover before stressing them out again. Working out with sore muscles will simply break down the muscle fiber even further to a point where they will take much longer to recover or prevent proper muscle gains.

Seasoned athletes will have sore muscles for a day or two and that is why they are instructed to adhere to a day or two recovery period before targeting those same muscles again. This gives the muscles a chance to adequately recover before being stressed to the max again.

Beginners can experience muscle soreness for a week or longer, and therefore, should only workout a couple of days a week when starting out. This gives their newly stressed muscles a chance to grow to a point where they can handle more frequent exercise sessions.

What about Extended Soreness?

If you have a muscle group that remains sore longer than usual then it could mean that extensive damage has occurred. If you suspect a muscle has been overworked, be sure to give it extra time to recover before working it out again or you could cause further, or even permanent, damage.

If the pain reoccurs in the same area after regular exercise sessions then you should visit your doctor as damage could have been caused to ligaments or tendons. These take much more time to heal and may even require surgery.

Bottom Line

The answer to the question then is:

1. Soreness due to lactic acid buildup during workouts – It is ok to work through this type of muscle soreness. Simply take 5 minutes or so to cool down and let the lactic acid disperse.

 2. Soreness due to muscle fiber breakdown – Do not workout with this type of soreness. You will only break the fibers down more, causing muscle weakness and even possible damage. Allow the muscles to fully heal so they can be maxed out again.

 3. Prolonged muscle soreness – Absolutely do not workout with this kind of muscle pain. Give the area extra time to heal, and if it continues or reoccurs often, have it checked out by a doctor.

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