Too sore to exercise? When should you REALLY take a break?

Soreness is obviously a common effect of a good workout; however it is important to realize when it is ok to exercise when you are sore and when it is time to take a day off.

Soreness or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is a result of microtears in the muscle tissue. As the muscle recovers from these tears the muscles get stronger, so this IS a good thing. I ask my clients to report to me how sore they were from particular workouts, so I can get an idea of what muscle groups we need to train more in the long term, and which ones to let rest in the next workout.

If your soreness  does not reduce you range of motion and is just somewhat uncomfortable, then it would be fine to workout – but in a different way the next day. For example if your legs are sore from weight lifting, then either concentrate on the upper body the next day or go for a walk instead of an intense run.  Some exercise in these cases actually helps the muscles recover by increasing blood flow to them  and removing waste byproducts from your intense session the day before. 

On the other hand if the soreness is so intense you can’t function as normal (can barely make it up the stairs), feel sharp pains in the muscle, or if the muscle hurts when you touch it, you should take a day or two of rest. In these cases it is possible that you may injure yourself if you push that muscle any further.

To help prevent the intense soreness from occurring and to heal quickly read these easy tips:

1. ALWAYS warm up before exercise. By warming the muscles by walking, doing jumping jacks, running in place, etc… you are preparing them for hard work.  You can stretch after you warm up  if you would like, but I usually save the stretching for my cool-down time. Make sure to never stretch muscles that have not been warmed up!


2. Watch what you eat. I know big surprise :). Although we already know to get plenty of fruits and veggies, a poor diet can mean weak muscle fibers. Some studies link cherries to faster muscle recovery post workout. Try adding some cherry juice in a smoothie or just eat them raw! Also, getting enough protein after a workout helps the muscles recover more quickly as well. Try some some Greek yogurt or a whey protein shake after you hit the gym. Here is a link to my more detailed article on pre-workout stretching.

3. Try a foam roller! Known as the poor man’s massage, the foam roller should be a part of your fitness routine. Regular rolling –  2-3 times a week- helps keep the tissue (fascia) that binds the muscles looser which allows for great mobility. If the muscles are never rolled or massaged, adhesions can occur from constant by product build-up form soreness.

foam roller3

See my post here on foam rolling for more info on how to foam roll and more of its benefits. 

So when soreness strikes be proud of your hard work and take care of yourself so you are ready to hit it hard at your next workout!



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