You know the feeling: When a workout leaves you so sore it hurts to move. We’ve been there, too! But if you’re just starting a workout routine or getting back into exercise, you might be wondering, “Should I work out if I’m sore?” And the answer is … it depends. We sat down with Kira Hughes, Certified Personal Trainer and Jenny Craig Weight Loss Coach, to learn if you should continue exercising when you’re sore or if you should take it easy.
Remember to always consult your physician before starting an exercise routine.
What causes muscle soreness?
First, let’s take a look at what actually causes your muscles to ache post-workout. The Cleveland Clinic reports that sore muscles can be caused by a variety of reasons including beginning a new exercise routine or increasing the intensity/duration of your workouts.1 During exercise, your muscle fibers can experience microscopic tears, which can lead to feelings of soreness.2 When you feel sore one to two days after a workout, it’s known as DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness.2
It’s important to mention the difference between DOMS and acute muscle soreness. Acute muscle soreness happens during a workout.2 For example, if you feel a burning sensation while lifting weights, this is acute rather than delayed muscle soreness.
A variety of activities can cause DOMS, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, including:2
- Strength training
- Walking downhill
Sore muscles aren’t a bad thing.
From exercise beginners to professional athletes — no one is immune to sore muscles. And that’s not a bad thing, either, Hughes says. “After your muscles experience those microscopic tears, they’ll repair and become stronger.”
As you continue your fitness routine, you’ll not only reap the health benefits of exercise, but you’ll also build muscle strength.
New to exercise? Try this 30-Day Workout Plan for Beginners to get started!
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So, should you work out with sore muscles?
Before you hit the ground running, Hughes stresses, “The most important thing to do is listen to your body!” Here are some of her tips to help guide your decision.
When to rest: Make sure the sensation you’re experiencing isn’t sharp pain or potentially injury-related. If you suspect that it is, it’s probably best to take the day off and try to reduce the pain (see more tips on that below).
“If you’re experiencing pain during exercise, it’s a good idea to stop,” Hughes suggests.
When it’s OK to work out: If you’re pain-free during a workout, you’re likely fine to continue. If you feel stiff, you may benefit from gentle exercises such as yoga or walking instead of an intense workout such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) which could exacerbate your discomfort.
Hughes notes, “If you are sore, it’s important to include a proper warm-up and cooldown into your routine. This will help your body ease into the workout and prevent further muscle damage.”
Hughes also advises alternating workouts to give your muscles time to recover. For example, if you complete a lower-body workout one day (like jogging or weight lifting), try an upper body workout one the next day (like swimming or bodyweight exercises). This way you’ll be working different muscle groups and avoid aggravating already sore muscles.
And remember, try not to overdo it! While starting a new exercise routine can be exciting, doing too much, too soon can lead to injury. Check out Beginner’s Guide to Exercise for more tips.
Photo by Ridofranz on iStock
How can you prevent and reduce muscle soreness?
Although some people love to feel the burn, you don’t have to suffer. Here are some of Hughes’ best tips to prevent and reduce muscle soreness.
1. Don’t neglect a proper warm-up.
Active stretching and mobility exercises can help your body warm-up and prepare for a workout. As you start to move, blood flow will increase to your muscles and your body temperature will gradually rise.3
“If you hop straight into a workout without taking the time to loosen up your muscles, you might be more prone to injury and soreness,” Hughes says.
2. Take an active recovery day when you need it.
“One of the most common mistakes people make when starting a new exercise program is skipping rest days because they think it will delay their progress,” says Hughes. “In actuality, your body needs that rest to repair your muscles.” Hughes recommends taking 1-2 active recovery days a week where you focus on gentle exercises such as swimming, walking or stretching to let your muscles recover.
3. Choose healthy post-workout foods.
What you eat has an impact on your muscle recovery as well. When you participate in strenuous exercise, your body primarily uses muscle glycogen for fuel.4 After you’ve completed a hard workout, properly replenishing those glycogen stores can help support muscle repair.5 “A mix of healthy carbs and protein is best after an intense workout,” Hughes asserts.
Examples include a small banana with a teaspoon of nut butter or a half cup of nonfat plain Greek yogurt with fresh berries sprinkled on top. If you’re a Jenny Craig member, great options include our Vanilla Cream Shake or a Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar.
If your goals include weight loss and the intensity of your workout is easy to moderate, you might not even need a post-workout snack. Remember, listen to your body!
Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels
How to reduce muscle soreness
1. Roll and stretch it out.
Have you heard of foam rolling? It’s a technique used to help relieve muscle tension and tightness.6 Although more research is needed, one small study found that foam rolling for 20 minutes post-workout reduced DOMS in healthy individuals.7 “And don’t forget to stretch!” says Hughes. Regularly stretching pre- and post-workout can help improve your flexibility and range of motion in your joints, according to Harvard Health.8
Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels
2. Try applying ice or heat.
Is ice or heat better for relieving muscle soreness? Research indicates that while they both can minimize muscle damage, ice might reduce muscle soreness more than heat.9 Both have different benefits: Ice can help reduce inflammation and heat can help increase blood flow to the affected area, potentially speeding up recovery.9
“Start with icing immediately after a workout if you’re sore,” suggests Hughes. If you’re still sore after a day or so that’s when a heat pack can be beneficial.
3. Get enough sleep.
Did you know that your body produces muscle-building hormones when you sleep?10 The National Sleep Foundation reports that when you sleep, blood flow increases to your muscles and aids in tissue repair and growth.10 If you’re skimping on shut-eye, your muscles might not be getting the adequate attention they need to recover. How much sleep do you need? Experts advise that adults try to get between 7-9 hours of rest a night.11
The bottom line
Now, the next time you find yourself wondering, “Should I work out if I’m sore?” you’ll have the tips and tools you need to decide.
“Taking time to rest and recover is important to avoid burnout and will help you maintain your fitness routine,” Hughes emphasizes.
- If you’re sore but can move without experiencing pain, exercising is probably fine.
- As soon as you feel pain during a workout, you should stop or you could injure yourself.
- The most important thing is to listen to your body!
Are you interested in learning how to create healthier habits? Jenny Craig can help. Learn more about our balanced meal plans starting as low as $12.99 a day.
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. An endurance sports enthusiast, she is usually swimming in the pool, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple
Kira is a weight loss coach for Jenny Craig and is also a certified personal trainer through ACE (American Council of Exercise). Sports have always been the driving force motivating Kira toward fitness and living a healthy lifestyle. Her inspiration for weightlifting began freshman year of high school when she was on the water polo and swim team. Learning to lift allowed her to realize the excitement that comes from strengthening oneself through weight training. In her free time Kira enjoys hiking, kickboxing, going to the beach, cooking, and traveling. Kira holds a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Nutrition Management and Sports Nutrition from California State University, Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: Hard boiled eggs and fruit
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and reviewed by certified professionals.
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