A healthy lifestyle blog by ACE Certified Group Exercise Trainer.

Ask a Trainer: Should you workout if you're sore?

A question I get from many clients....should I workout if I'm super sore? Is there anything I can do to lessen the soreness or prevent the soreness?

For many, some delayed onset muscle soreness (soreness that occurs 24-72 hours after a workout) is a welcome sign that you exercised intensely and even considered a "badge of honor" for some. It's your body's way of repairing and building muscle and recovering. It's totally OK to workout while sore, but here are some general guidelines.

What to do if you're sore.

My advice if you are already sore from a previous workout - you may engage in light to moderate steady-state cardio (walking, jogging, dancing, yoga etc.) or light to moderate strength training, as long as you aren't experiencing severe pain. Muscle soreness typically begins to fade when you start moving the muscles during light cardio. If pain increases, stop immediately. Don't do any HIIT training or sprinting or heavy lifting if you are super sore. For example, if your legs are very sore from an intense barre class, don't do any leg-focused work the day or two after, but instead go for a walk or light jog, do gentle yoga, or upper body exercises.

However, I always encourage you to listen to your body. If you are just so tired and fatigued from a previous day's workout, take a rest day. There's no harm in that! It's typically recommended to avoid taking more than three days off in a row from some form of exercising (unless you have an illness or medical problem).

Mitigating soreness.

If you are already sore, the best thing for you to do is to avoid sitting for long periods of time. Sitting can stiffen the muscles and intensify the feelings of soreness. Getting up frequently to walk, helps a lot. Drinking plenty of fluids also helps in muscle repair. Some folks find an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like Advil helps, or topical muscle creams like Bengay, and even applying heat to the sore area. Foam rolling involves using a foam roller or tennis ball and rubbing your sore muscle on the device to work out the knots and tissues. This is painful, but extremely effective. You can find tons of foam rolling videos and how-to's on YouTube. These are all effective methods to lessening the intensity or duration of muscle soreness.

Can I prevent soreness?

There are a few ways you can try to prevent or lessen soreness. The best way is to do a cardio warm up prior to working out. Have you heard the old analogy that cold taffy breaks, but warm taffy bends? Same thing with muscles. Warm muscles that are properly warmed up are less likely to get injured.

We also tend to get sore when we are working muscles in a way we haven't done in awhile. I am always amazed when I start out an 8-week Tabata program because I ALWAYS get sore the first week. Every. Single. Time. I've taught it about 6 times the past two years! And I always exercise between 8 week programs, so it's not like I completely stop exercising. But because my body isn't used to doing those specific exercises, in those specific orders, I usually get sore from the first week of class and after that, my body adapts and I don't get sore anymore.

Nutrition is also a big key. Pre-workout, you should have a serving of carbs/protein an hour or two prior to working out to fuel muscle tissues. Post-workout, it's very important that you get a ratio of 2 carbs to 1 protein, 30 minutes to an hour after working out. If you wait to eat longer than an hour, the benefits diminish. Eating after a workout helps your body repair muscles. Staying properly hydrated helps as well. But it's important to note that nutrition does not always completely prevent soreness.

Muscle Soreness Versus Muscle Pain.

There's a big difference between being sore and having an injury causing pain. Many beginners to exercise don't know the difference. Here's a handy table I found at MoveForwardPT.com. If you feel you may have an injury, it's important to see a doctor.

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