It’s the age-old question. Do achy muscles give you a free pass to crash out on the couch? We’d love to tell you yes. Really, we would. Because that would mean that we, too, could skip our workouts guilt-free at the slightest sign of soreness.
But the answer definitely isn’t cut and dried. It really all comes down to how sore you are and what type of activity you’re planning to do while your muscles seem to be begging for a rest.
Here’s the deal. While it might not feel good, muscular soreness is good. Why? It’s a sign your workouts are actually, well, working. 12 to 36 hours after physical activity, muscles you worked can experience delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.
You feel DOMS because your workout created little, tiny tears in your muscles. That sounds bad, but as your muscle heals, it gets stronger. In fact, these tears are the whole goal of strength training. So soreness isn’t necessarily a sign you need to ease up. It could just be telling you that you’re doing something right.
That said, there’s a BIG difference between soreness and injury. If your soreness doesn’t go away after a few days or it flat out hurts, you might be injured. In this case, you should definitely lay off any type of exercise that exerts that muscle so it has the chance to heal.
Pay attention to your body. You know the difference between soreness and pain. Even the most intense soreness ever (like that kind you get after you go to a totally new type of high-intensity workout class) should go away in the time it takes your muscles to repair themselves, which is generally 72 hours or less.
So if you’re not injured but you’re mega-sore, can you still work out? Yes. Sort of. Keep an eye on things. If your hamstrings are so sore you can’t maintain safe form while doing squats, skip them until your muscles are ready again.
But that doesn’t mean you should totally take the day off (sorry!). A light jog, some restorative yoga, or another type of low-intensity workout could be just what your muscles need. And don’t forget, the old faithfuls like stretching and ice are always there to get you through your sorest days.
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