Should You Exercise When You're Sore?

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Everyone who exercises experiences soreness at times, especially those new to exercise or trying a new activity. While soreness is not a requirement for getting a good workout, it does occur.

Whether to work out again while still sore from your last session is a case-by-case decision that depends mainly on the degree of discomfort. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce the pain and keep your fitness plan on track.

Why Muscles Get Sore After Exercise

Delayed-onset muscle soreness (sometimes called DOMS) is natural when you challenge the muscles with new exercises or more intensity. When you put new stress on the body, it adapts to handle the new load.

There is still much to be learned about the exact cause of DOMS. A prevailing theory is that muscle soreness is due to microscopic muscle tears. Other research suggests that the soreness comes from inflammation from damage to the fascia, which is the tissue that connects to muscles.

Misconceptions About Muscle Soreness

People tend to make assumptions about their workout regimen based on how sore they feel in the days following.

  1. "No pain, no gain." Some think soreness is a sign of progress in their fitness. While soreness indicates you have stressed your muscles through the intensity of your exercise, soreness is not necessary to make progress with your fitness.
  2. "Rest is best." When you're feeling sore, you might be tempted to avoid activity. But active recovery, such as light cardio and doing the same low-intensity exercises, can help promote blood flow. This, in turn, helps your body clear lactate from over-trained muscles and reduce soreness.
  3. "Stretching will prevent soreness." While stretching has many benefits, like building flexibility and range of motion, evidence is weak that stretching will decrease soreness.

Should You Exercise With DOMS?

Sore muscles are in the process of healing and growing stronger, so you should avoid stressing them even more by doing heavy, intense exercise. However, a light workout may offer some relief as you warm the muscles to increase healing blood flow to the tissue.

Safe Exercise for Sore Muscles

When exercising through the pain, it is essential to determine the degree of soreness and use your judgment. Let your soreness be your guide.

If You Are A Little Stiff

A light-to-moderate cardio workout can loosen stiff muscles. A dynamic warm-up can help get the blood flowing.

Exercises to try:

If You Are Noticeably Sore

Take a rest day, walk, or try a light cardio workout and stretching. Again, a dynamic warm-up and stretching can help bring healing blood to the muscles. After you have warmed up, if you still feel too sore for your workout, take a rest day or keep your exercise light.

Exercises to try:

If You Are Very Sore

If lifting your arms to brush your hair or participating in everyday activities hurts, you need a rest day (or two or three; soreness may be even worse on the second day). After you rest, try light cardio or a lighter version of your original workout: Use lighter weights or no weight, do fewer sets, and work with less intensity overall.

Exercises to try:

How to Treat Sore Muscles

Soreness may be an inevitable part of getting in shape, but over time will pass. In the meantime, some studies suggest that yoga, lightweight training (using no weight or very light weights) or light cardio (e.g., walking) may help reduce symptoms of DOMS.


Though studies are conflicting, some research shows that massage might alleviate muscle soreness. Massage is believed to bring blood to sore muscles to promote healing. However, massages can also leave you sore. Be sure to drink plenty of water afterward.

Anti-Inflammatory Medication

Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can reduce pain and inflammation. There are side effects, so talk to your doctor before taking anti-inflammatories.

Water Submersion

Some studies suggest ice baths can improve recovery from DOMS. Whether you can tolerate sitting in a bathtub full of ice is an entirely different question. A warm bath with Epsom salts may feel better. Try some gentle stretches after the bath while the muscles are still warm.

How to Avoid Muscle Soreness

Avoiding muscle soreness altogether is impossible, especially if you aim to lose weight or change your body. However, remember that recovery is just as important as workouts. Your body heals and grows stronger during rest days. It can't do that if you don't give it enough rest.

While you can't altogether avoid getting sore, there are things you can do to minimize it.

  • Ease into workouts. Start slowly to allow your muscles to adapt to the stress of new activities or intensities gradually. This is especially true if you've taken a long break from exercise. Returning to the workouts you used to do may be too much for your body.
  • Gradually build intensity. To get in shape, burn calories, and lose weight, you must challenge your body with more stress than it's used to. And that causes soreness. If you're a beginner, any activity is more stress than your body is used to, so you may need to stay with the same workouts for one to two weeks before adding intensity.
  • Be consistent. Once you've gotten sore from a specific workout or intensity, you shouldn't experience it again until the intensity is increased. Regularly working out will help you maintain that level of strength until you're ready for more intensity.
6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Wilke J, Behringer M. Is “delayed onset muscle soreness” a false friend? The potential implication of the fascial connective tissue in post-exercise discomfort. Int J Mol Sci. 2021;22(17):9482. doi:10.3390/ijms22179482

  3. Nalbandian HM, Radak Z, Takeda M. Active recovery between interval bouts reduces blood lactate while improving subsequent exercise performance in trained men. Sports (Basel). 2017;5(2):40. doi:10.3389/fphys.2020.00310

  4. Afonso J, Clemente FM, Nakamura FY, et al. The effectiveness of post-exercise stretching in short-term and delayed recovery of strength, range of motion and delayed onset muscle soreness: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Front Physiol. 2021;12:677581. doi:10.3389/fphys.2021.677581

  5. Davis HL, Alabed S, Chico TJA. Effect of sports massage on performance and recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2020;6(1):e000614. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000614

  6. Bleakley C, McDonough S, Gardner E, Baxter GD, Hopkins JT, Davison GW. Cold-water immersion (cryotherapy) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;(2):CD008262. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008262.pub2.

Additional Reading

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."