It's bittersweet to wake up in the morning with the extreme discomfort of soreness. Yes, it's uncomfortable and at times can be debilitating. But, it also means that the day before you pushed your body to a new level. Whether it's because you upped the intensity or load of your current workout, or tried a new type of exercise, soreness after an extra challenging workout is inevitable.
Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is the soreness that develops one to two days following exercise. The discomfort peaks around 48 hours after the workout and won't begin to diminish until at about the 72-hour mark. DOMS isn't an indication of whether you worked out hard enough, but rather it means that your muscles have worked in a new way or at an intensity that they're not yet adapted to.
So should you exercise while you're sore or take the day off?
Well, it really depends on the severity of discomfort. Working out again may actually help in your recovery and make you feel better. But, it also could increase your risk of injury. You'll need to be honest with yourself on whether the soreness is truly debilitating, which could leave you more susceptible to hurting yourself.
A Look at Soreness: What Causes It?
DOMS develops following a new training stimulus. This could be an increase in the intensity or volume of your regular workout. It could be adding new or different weight training exercises to your routine. It could be starting a brand new exercise activity, such as doing yoga when you're used to only cardio and lifting weights. Or, it could be returning to exercise after a long break.
This new stimulus places a different load of stress on your muscles, which in turn creates microscopic muscle tears through the muscle tissue. Trainers and fitness professionals will refer to this process as muscle breakdown. It's completely normal. While you don't want to be sore after every workout, periodically upping the intensity or volume is important for preventing the muscles from hitting a plateau. The damage that occurs to the muscle tissue from workouts is what ultimately stimulates their development. Those tears are also, however, responsible for causing the discomfort known as soreness.
Eccentric exercises, which force muscles to lengthen as they simultaneously contract, are particularly associated with DOMS. Eccentric exercises are more demanding for muscles and therefore are more likely to break down tissue. Exercises like deadlifts or running down hill are eccentric-focused exercises that have a greater chance of causing soreness.
A Vote for Yes: Benefits of Exercising While Sore
If your soreness is only minor, exercising will likely bring relief. It will increase body temperature and blood flow, thereby delivering oxygen and nutrients to facilitate the healing process.
Soreness can be an excuse for those lacking discipline to take the day off. Exercising through the discomfort may be a better idea for those who have historically struggled with commitment and are striving to stick to their routine.
Keep in mind that if your soreness is from a weight-training workout, your muscles need at least 48 hours of recovery time following every lifting workout. With weight lifting, it's during the rest periods that the muscles develop strength and grow, so be sure to give your muscles at least one day off in between lifting sessions, no matter whether you're sore or not.
A Vote for No: Risks of Exercising While Sore
If your soreness is so intense that it's debilitating, you'll likely alter your body mechanics. This could put greater stress on tendons and ligaments, which could increase your risk of hurting yourself.
In addition, when your sore your strength and explosiveness won't be at peak levels, so exercising again so soon and at too high of an intensity can increase the likelihood of injury.
The Bottom Line: Analyze the Severity of Your Soreness
Make an honest analysis of the severity of your soreness to determine whether you should exercise through the soreness.
If your muscles are extremely sore to touch, or if the pain is sharp, rather than a dull throb, it might be best to take it easy. Also, if you notice that your ranges of motion or physical capabilities are markedly limited, a day off might be the way to go.
If you decide to exercise, keep in mind that your physical performance will be affected. It might be best to reduce the intensity or duration of your session slightly. If you're going to exercise through extreme soreness, consider sticking with a low-intensity walk or a light swim.