Should I work out while sore ? – Asked everyone who has ever worked out in their life.
This question has irked gym goers and home workout warriors for decades and decades.
Today, we are going to put a screeching halt to it – solely because we are going to solve this mystery right here, right now.
Just be sure to keep your eyes peeled to the entire article solely because I am going to lay every single thing for you in depth.
If you stick around, you will leave this article having zero doubts of the answer to should I work out while sore.
Let’s get into it.
Should I Work Out While Sore ?
Well.. What Causes Muscle Soreness?
EIMD (Exercise Induced Muscle Damage) is usually what causes muscle soreness.
When you workout you create micro tears inside your muscle fibers (I know, crazy right?!).
People think you change your body inside the workouts. No, you actually break your body down during your workouts.
The stress and tension of lifting weights / exercising in general is what creates this damage.
When you recover from those workouts is when you actually change your body!
Even crazier, right?!
Nonetheless, this breakdown and “damage” of the muscles creates inflammation inside the muscle and causes the “soreness” effect.
EIMD is most apparent when you FIRST start working out or FIRST start a new workout program you just changed to.
That’s why when you first start lifting weights or when you come back after a long period of time off… Oh mama, you better be ready to hold onto something when you sit down on the toilet.
Yet after that first week, the soreness typically wears off because EIMD becomes less and less apparent as your body gets more used to the movements and exercises.
This is due to something called “the repeated bout effect”.
Essentially, when you continuously workout your body gets “used to” the stress you are putting on it.
Whether it is because you are doing the same exercise for 4-5 weeks (like you should be doing following a real strength training program!).
Or whether it is because just in general your body is getting used to handling and dealing with higher amounts of stress in this fashion.
As you repeatedly put your body through the stress, it is very smart, and it adapts to the stress.
This is actually how you change your body, get stronger, and build muscle!
You put a stress on your body (exercise), you recover from that stress, then you adapt to that stress.
I talk about this more in my progressive overload article HERE if you want to check it out.
This is important because I know so many people who just start working out get incredibly sore and it really deters them from continuing on in their workouts.
Please just know, if you stay consistent and keep pushing, the soreness will subside as it goes on.
If it is that bad, keep reading below to find out what I recommend doing.
This also then begs the question…
Do You NEED To Be Sore To See Progress?
I think when answering the question of should I work out while sore ties into the same question of do you need to be sore.
The answer is yes and no.
No because as long as you are having progressive overload over time, that is what matters.
If you are getting stronger, lifting more weight, doing more reps.. That determines progress over time.
Also, TOO MUCH soreness can actually be detrimental to your progress.
If you have too much EIMD (aka soreness) that can actually hinder muscle repair progress as well as performance in the gym.
Your muscles have something called muscle protein synthesis. When you try to train your muscle again when it is already incredibly sore, you are messing up this muscle protein synthesis process.
So now you aren’t recovering as well on top of the fact your performance in the gym has tanked.
(Remember from earlier, the way you change your body is by recovering from workouts. If you don’t recover, you don’t change).
Thus, less recovery and worse performance in the gym, that is NOT a very good equation for seeing results my fellow weight lifting friend.
Now, on the other hand, SOME soreness helps us indicate that we did in fact create enough tension inside of the local muscle we are trying to work in order to see some change to it.
For example, if you *think* you absolutely SMASHED your glutes or your chest.. Yet your glutes or chest aren’t sore even in the slightest.. Then we may need to rethink that “smashing”.
(Not like that, get your mind out of the gutter).
You don’t need, nor should you be debilitatingly sore after a workout, yet some soreness can be a good sign.
Alright, What Does All Of This Mean!?
Okay, let’s first sum up some information about soreness.
- Muscle soreness comes from EIMD ( Exercise Induced Muscle Damage ) – this comes from exercising and putting your body under stress.
- It is most apparent when first ever start a training program, when you have taken a long break from working out , or when you switch your workout program and start a new one
- It will get less and less the more consistent you become, the longer you stick to a program and the more advanced you become through the “repeated bout effect”
- You don’t NEED to be sore in order to change your body or see progress, yet SOME soreness is a good indicator you are creating enough stress & tension inside the muscle you are trying to work
- Too much soreness is actually a negative thing and can cause diminishing results
Now that we laid out some key takeaways about muscle soreness, let’s dive into some frequently asked questions in regards to soreness and should I work out while sore.
Should I Work Out While Sore : FAQ About Soreness.
How Much Is Being “Too Sore”?
Generally speaking if you are sore for more than 72 hours in a specific muscle, that usually is a sign you did too much or didn’t recover enough.
For example if you trained your chest on Monday and by the time Thursday rolls around if you are still debilitating sore, that is not something you want to routinely happen for reasons mentioned above.
What If You ARE “Too Sore” Consistently?
When talking about the topic of should I work out while sore – the fear of being “too sore” often pops up.
Well again, if you are a complete beginner, I would first remind you that you are going to be sore for the first few weeks until that “repeated bout effect” we talked about sets in.
Beyond that, if you are seeing your muscles are sore 72+ hours after you workout, you either need to..
- Do less volume and intensity in your workouts
- Recover better
Volume essentially means the amount of reps and sets you are doing.
If you are too sore, you should probably back off the sets and reps.
Intensity in this instance is something I am referring to as how close you are pushing to failure.
If you are too sore, you should probably back off and not push as close to failure as you are doing right now.
Or as mentioned, you need to recover better. How do you recover better? Well, you can..
- Sleep more
- Eat more calories
- Eat more protein
- Make sure you are getting proper electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium)
- Work in specific actions to promote recovery (massage, foam roll, read, meditate)
To name a few.
What If You Are NOT Getting Sore At All?
As mentioned above, you don’t NEED to be sore to see progress, but a little soreness generally means you are working the right intended muscle.
Again, it will be more apparent the earlier on in a program and less apparent the later on in a program.
With that being said, if you aren’t even getting the slightest bit sore, you probably need to either
- Do more hard working sets to failure (If you don’t know what a working set vs a warm up set is, check out this podcast I did HERE).
- Lift heavier weight in a lower rep range – stop only lifting in the 12-20 rep range
- Fix your form and execution of the movement. If your form is off, you will not be working the right muscles which means you won’t be getting sore (at least, sore in the right places!)
On a scale of 1-10, after the first week, I’d maybe aim to be about a 3-4 level of soreness after workouts to let yourself know you worked that muscle properly.
What Are The Negative Side Effects To Working Out While Sore?
Well, as mentioned earlier briefly, if you have too much EIMD it is going to impair the recovery process for one.
It is also going to cause worse workout performance.
Therefore if you can’t push as hard in the gym and you impair the recovery process needed to build muscle and strength, your results inherently suffer.
Potentially even go backwards.
You could also risk injury if your muscles are so sore they can’t contract and fire properly. Your form will get too compromised and increase risk of injury.
Whew.. now that we know all of that.. It’s time for the real question.
Should I Work Out While Sore?
I am going to break this down into two categories.
Beginner and intermediate / advanced.
Really quickly, I am labeling you as a beginner if you are in the first 1-2 months of following a real workout program for the topic of this particular subject.
Establishing that, if you are a beginner, yes you absolutely can and should workout while you are sore.
Remember the repeated bout effect, you need to be able to consistently put the stress on your body so that it can adapt to it to allow you to overcome that soreness.
Therefore if you workout for a week, then stop for a week because you are sore, you will never allow your body to truly adapt via the repeated bout effect.
You will “start over” each time after you take a week off because you are sore.
Therefore, I strongly encourage you to keep pushing through to allow yourself to get to that 3, 4, 5 week mark of consistently working out in a row.
This will allow your body to get used to the working out and the stress / damage that comes along with it – meaning you will be less sore as time goes on.
If you are someone who really cannot bear the soreness, just do what we talked about above, which is do a little bit less volume and intensity when you workout for right now.
If you are doing 3×8 with 50lbs for squats, do 2×6 with 30lbs.
Or if you are doing bodyweight lunges for 3×10 reps, do 2×5 reps.
Decrease your intensity and volume for right now, which will allow you to be less sore, stay consistent, and benefit from the repeated bout effect.
Intermediate / Advanced
Here is where the question of should I work out while sore becomes a bit more technical.
When you are past that beginner stage the answer is going to depend on a few things.
First is if you have given your muscles at least 72 hours to recover.
For example, if you are training glutes on Monday, and you can barely sit down on the toilet, yet you are supposed to train glutes on Wednesday…
No, I personally would not train glutes on that day.
You will more than likely not be able to train with enough intensity to produce results.
As well as you are not going to allow your body to go through the full recovery process necessary to grow stronger and adapt to the previous workouts stress.
Now, here is where context matters.
I just said I wouldn’t train glutes on Wednesday if your glutes are like 9/10 on the soreness scale.
Yet let’s say your glutes are only a 3/10 on the soreness scale.. You can feel them, they’re a little sore for sure, but it isn’t like you are crying going up stairs…
In this instance, I think yes, you could be able to train glutes on Wednesday.
There is not as much damage created (EIMD) therefore you won’t be impeding the muscle protein synthesis process nearly as much.
In some cases it could even potentially help the soreness because you are getting new blood flow to the area.
When you are sore you have inflammation inside the muscle. In order to recover you need to get this old blood out and push new blood in. Doing a workout while you are slightly sore can help do just that.
You can in fact workout while you are sore, if it is has been at least 72 hours or if your soreness is very mild.
But, if it has not been 72 hours and you are debilitating sore, I would hold off on working out for all reasons mentioned above.
Should I Work Out While Sore : Final Call
Welp, I hope this article helped you understand now only the question of “should i workout while sore” but also soreness as a whole in general.
If you enjoyed the article, feel free to share it with a friend.
As well as if you were interested in coaching with our team, I can link that HERE.
Look to chat soon,