Fitness 411: Should You Exercise When You’re Sore?

You had a great workout – but now your muscles are screaming. Is it ok to exercise again if you’re still feeling the ache?
Jennifer Cohen

Q: Is it safe to exercise if I’m really sore after an intense workout?

A: Honestly, it depends on the type of soreness you’re experiencing. If a hardcore workout pushes your muscles beyond their usual comfort zone and you feel achy the next day, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS, for short), and it means your muscles experienced tiny tears as they rose to the challenge you gave them during the workout. During the repair process that follows, they’ll become stronger.

With that kind of muscle soreness, which usually disappears within a few days, a light workout—a gentle walk, bike ride or swim followed by some stretching, for example—may actually ease some of the muscle tension and tenderness you feel; doing yoga can help, too. Sometimes putting sore muscles back into action actually helps them feel better because it enhances blood flow to the muscles, which can help with the repair process. If you can’t stomach the thought, another option is to do exercises that target muscles that aren’t sore—perhaps by doing light strength-training exercises for your core or upper body if your legs are achy.

But if you’re experiencing deep pain, if a particular muscle is sore to the touch, or if your range of motion is limited because of the pain, you may be better off taking at least a day or two off. In that case, gently stretch the sore muscles, take warm baths, and use a foam roller to try to ease tightness in the muscle. (By using a foam roller and your own body weight, you can massage tight muscles and connective tissue and increase blood flow to the area.) If the soreness persists or interferes with your natural mobility, consult a doctor. The last thing you want to do is make a true injury worse because that will sideline you for longer and interfere with your ability to function in everyday life.

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