You’ve worked out. You’re feeling it after a day or so and the next workout (for one reason or another) has you doing more on that same muscle group. Should you do it? Here we go over all of the factors at play to help you make the best decision.
What Is Muscle Soreness?
First, it is good to have an understanding of what muscle soreness is in the first place.
It used to be that people thought a buildup of lactic acid was the cause. That is no longer the prevailing theory. Yes, I said theory.
Currently the general consensus is that working out causes a bunch of microscopic tears in the muscle and both this damage and the inflammation that occurs afterwards are what we refer to as muscle soreness. This is also known as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
Factors To Consider
There are several factors to consider when trying to decide if you should workout through sore muscles:
- What are your fitness goals?
- Are you too sore to exercise with good form?
- How hydrated are you?
- Are you trying to work out to feel better or to stress the muscles more?
- Is it soreness or is it an injury?
- Recovery happens outside of the gym
What Are Your Fitness Goals?
If your only goal is to build muscle, just let it rest. You grow muscle outside of the gym.
The whole cycle of muscle building is stimulus-response. The stimulus takes an hour or two in the gym. The response takes days afterwards.
If your goal is to be prepared for anything, then go for it, but with a good warm up. You’re putting yourself at risk by exercising while you’re in pain. A good warm up will lower the risk of injury.
In my opinion, the general populous needs to get a bit tougher. Two workouts in a row – even if it is the exact same workout – won’t kill or injure most people.
It is okay to run your body hard. It’s not going to explode or implode or just fall apart. Just do it under the guidance of someone knowledgeable and who can take into account your specific situation.
Are You Too Sore To Exercise With Good Form?
If you can’t do the exercise or a lesser variation of it, don’t do it. Sounds like a day for you to hit the foam roller and go for a walk. Congratulations, you’ve successfully damaged yourself and you are best off spending time resting and eating plenty of healthy foods and protein so that your body can rebuild itself.
There’s no point in causing damage to a joint. Those structures heal slowly due to less blood flow. Focus your mayhem on the muscles. Methodically go through the different muscle groups one at a time, wreaking a very targeted havoc upon them.
How Hydrated Are You?
Soreness and hydration are linked in a way. I’ve always seen those who are dehydrated take much longer to get out of a soreness phase. Sore legs are apparently easier to deal with than chugging 3 liters of water. I don’t get it.
Nonetheless, if you find yourself sore, make sure that you drink plenty of water. It’ll “flush” everything out or do whatever it does to make you feel better.
If you are super sore because you’re dehydrated then you have no business going back to the gym for more punishment. The thing that is going to improve your health is more water.
Are You Trying To Work Out To Feel Better or To Stress the Muscles More?
If you’re just trying to go into the gym and loosen up, then go for it. Don’t hesitate. Movement is good.
Flexing a muscle squeezes the blood vessels in it and encourages circulation. The more circulation, the more nutrients get to where they need to go.
So go swimming, go for a walk, do an easy warm up or yoga or whatever you do to get loose. I have seen repeatedly that this decreases the amount of time my clients are sore.
Usually soreness comes from strength training and I just wouldn’t have you overload your muscles right after they were just overloaded. Underload them all you want!
Is It Soreness or Is It an Injury?
Let’s clarify some terms because people can get confused. Soreness in the belly of a muscle after working out is soreness.
Soreness that lasts more than a few days and is actually painful is something else. If you have a past injury, it is likely to flare up if you’re beating that area with back to back workouts.
If you’re not sure if your shoulder will take a second day of punishment, then don’t hit the bench press again. Do some simple rotator cuff exercises with bands to further strengthen those small muscles.
Recovery Happens Outside of the Gym
Why are you in the gym?
The point of going to the gym is to cause damage and then recover outside of it. I sometimes find myself with an itch to work out and I ask this same question: What do I train?
You could say “What isn’t sore right now?” which sometimes is also a bust when everything is sore.
These days are best left to activities such as ultimate frisbee, golf, recreational swimming, ping pong or other not-so-physical activities.
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What To Do When You Are Really Sore
Do a light warm up, like hitting the elliptical machine or rower for 15 minutes. Then hit the foam roller.
Roll out your quadriceps, gluteals, IT band, back, inner thigh, calves, etc. It is not for those who can’t take pain, but if everything is sore, you have a good tolerance.
Besides, when you’re finished, you’ll feel like a million bucks.
These days there are all sorts of foam rollers. I like the very simple, basic foam rollers.
The knobby ones hurt me too much and, when I’m sore and already in a world of pain, I don’t need any more.
Well done on damaging your muscles. They need time to heal and grow. You can encourage this by doing light cardiovascular exercise or by stretching and foam rolling.
But if you’re in the military or have some other physically demanding job. Train the hell out of yourself here so that you’re prepared for anything that comes your way when you’re on the job.
It is comforting to be in the thick of it far from home and say “My legs hurt but this is nowhere near the worst I’ve been.”