Should You Work Out When Sore? Benefits, Risks, + The Bottom Line

All our fitness and training resources are rigorously vetted by our expert team and adhere to our Exercise Advice Guidelines.

Should you work out when sore is a debate many people who are new to fitness have with themselves. As you become more experienced with fitness, it is easier to make the decision when it comes up.

Understanding the role of soreness in working out is helpful in understanding whether or not to push through or rest and recover. 

In this article, we talk about the benefits and risks of working out while sore to help you determine, should you work out when sore?

We will get into the following:

  • What is Post-Workout Muscle Soreness?
  • Benefits of Working Out When Sore
  • Potential Risks of Working Out When Sore
  • Should You Work Out When Sore?
A person holding their sore neck.

What is Post-Workout Muscle Soreness?

After engaging in physical activity that is different or more challenging than what you are used to, it is not uncommon to experience muscle soreness. This is often known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. 

This soreness primarily occurs after engaging in activities that involve eccentric muscle activity or intense isometric exercises.

Symptoms of DOMS can vary based on the activity you did but often include your muscles being tender to touch or movement and having less flexibility and ability to put out force. 

You may feel a constant dull achiness throughout the affected muscles. This discomfort usually sets in between 24 and 48 hours after physical activity. Though the soreness usually dissipates after 72 hours, certain activities can cause it to last up to 7-10 days. 

When you experience post-workout soreness, it can make performing exercise or everyday life activities challenging. It is typically not possible to avoid being sore after a workout if you want to do workouts that actually result in changes to your body. 

A person holding their sore calf.

This is because tiny tears must occur within your muscles in order for them to grow and adapt. Muscle and connective tissue damage is inevitable when completing eccentric exercises, and DOMS is an inflammatory response to the movements and occurs so that repairing can take place.

Rather than trying to avoid the soreness, the key is focusing on proper recovery techniques and listening to your body so you can adapt as needed.  

While general muscle soreness is common after a workout, extreme pain in one specific area is not.

This could be a sign of an injury and should be further assessed by a professional before proceeding with physical activity that requires using the potentially injured muscles and tissues. 

A runner holding their knee.

Benefits of Working Out When Sore

So, should I work out with sore muscles? Let’s take a peek at why maybe you should.

While working out when sore may be uncomfortable and hard to convince yourself to do, there are a variety of benefits.

By pushing through the discomfort and continuing towards your health and fitness goals, you may help yourself recover faster, and you will feel good because you did not break your fitness routine.

On top of that, the workout will likely leave you with endorphins that can make your day much better. 

#1: Increased Blood Flow and Faster Recovery 

Continuing to move your body after a hard workout is often known as active recovery, and it can be a great way to reduce stiffness and get the blood flowing through your body.

When blood is efficiently flowing through your extremities, this promotes faster healing and helps flush out lactic acid and other gunk hanging around after a hard workout. 

While working out when sore may be very uncomfortable initially, it may actually reduce the amount of time you feel sore for.

Encouraging blood flow to the impacted muscle groups reminds your body that it has repairs to complete, and the quicker those repairs occur, the sooner you will feel restored and ready to crush another workout.

A person doing a lunge.

#2: Maintenance of Exercise Routine and Momentum 

Some people place a lot of importance on completing their daily exercise goals and have a strict workout schedule they abide by. If this is you, skipping a workout could leave you feeling antsy or frustrated. 

On the other hand, you may be someone who has had a hard time staying consistent with working out and often finds excuses to avoid doing the work. If that is the case, you should avoid skipping your workout just because you are sore.

You will likely be sore again in the future, and giving yourself this established excuse for missing a workout may set you up for failure and poor maintenance of your exercise routine. 

When you start avoiding working out when sore, you may break any momentum you have established in your newfound healthy lifestyle.

Rather than completely avoiding working out when sore, try adapting your workout to utilize the muscle areas that are the least affected or moving your body in a way that still keeps you active but does not place high demands on sore areas. 

A person running.

#3: Mental and Psychological Benefits

Believe it or not, there are actually some mental and psychological benefits to workout out when sore. This is especially true if you are a competitive athlete or someone who is training for a big athletic event. 

When you “push through the pain,” you are training your mental fitness, which is a big part of competing.

By not giving yourself an out and having to get over the obstacle of discomfort in a workout, you will be more likely to get through challenges that you might face on competition or race day. 

If you work out when sore, you are setting yourself up to recognize that discomfort does not mean you must stop.

This is useful for people who are training for ultras, marathons, or even a local 5k. You are teaching yourself that when you believe you can give more, the body tends to have more to give. 

Of course, there is important to recognize the difference between soreness or discomfort and actual injury. It is not wise or beneficial to push through the pain of an injury because this could have long-term negative effects. 

A runner holding their back.

Potential Risks of Working Out When Sore 

When asking yourself, should I work out with sore muscles, you should also take into consideration the potential risks. Pushing yourself too hard or failing to recognize when you need some downtime can lead to injury, poor performance, and emotional strain. 

#1: Risk of Exacerbating Muscle Damage or Injury 

Soreness is often just that, soreness. However, there are times when soreness in one specific area persists and eventually feels more like an injury than soreness. It can sometimes take time to realize that a certain muscle or connective tissue is injured rather than sore. 

If you notice that one area feels more sore than others after activity, you may want to do further assessments to determine if it is more than just the soreness you are experiencing.

If you have a coach, personal trainer, or physical therapist, you should seek advice and guidance from them. 

Placing demands on injured areas can cause further damage and increase recovery time. You may even end up with other seemingly unrelated injuries due to compensation that sometimes occur if you continue to work out when injured.

For example, continuing to run with an unhealed sprained ankle could lead to hip or knee issues due to a change in your gait. 

A person stretching.

#2: Impact on Performance and Technique 

If you are too sore to move your body as you normally would, this can cause issues, especially for runners. This is also true for other types of athletes. 

Your body is used to completing familiar movements in a particular way. When you continue to complete these movements while sore, you may slightly alter how you move to avoid pain. This is typically something you do subconsciously. 

Not only can doing this lead to injury, but it can also alter your movements’ effectiveness. If you are a runner, swimmer, or cyclist, your typical stride, stroke, or gait may not be as powerful as usual. 

#3: Mental and Emotional Strain

For some people, continuing to work out while sore can cause a lot of stress and make the experience less enjoyable, which can defeat the purpose. This is especially true if you are continuously worried about whether or not your discomfort is pain or injury. 

While working out when sore is often necessary to maintain your fitness routine and make fitness gains, it is not for everyone, and it is a good idea to weigh the benefits and risks for yourself in each situation. 

A quad stretch.

Should You Work Out When Sore?

Working out when sore has risks and benefits and should be done on a case-by-case basis. Only you know your body and what you and your body can handle. 

If you are going to work out when sore, you should be sure to complete a proper warm-up before you begin your workout.

Taking the time to do things like foam rolling and stretching before and after your workouts can help get your blood flowing and prepare your muscles to both do work and recover from the work done. 

You should always listen to your body and consult professionals as needed if you are concerned that you are experiencing an injury rather than typical soreness. 

Sore legs after running? Give these 4 Long Run Recovery Techniques a try so that you are ready to get after your next workout!

A person stretching.
Photo of author
I am a UESCA-certified running coach, psychology PhD student, and competitive obstacle racer and trail runner. Once 100 pounds overweight I found fitness and fell in love with an active and competitive lifestyle. My passion for inspiring others and fitness come together seamlessly in the world of writing where I get to share the thing that changed my life. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my family, my dogs, as well as baking and cooking.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.