Is It Bad to Work Out With Sore Muscles?

Does the thought of working out with sore muscles make you cringe? If your legs feel stiff when you get out of bed or you find it difficult to wash your hair because of sore shoulders, then you might be experiencing delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS.

Low-impact workouts can help ease sore muscles and keep you active while you're recovering.
Image Credit: Zoran Zeremski/iStock/GettyImages

The minor discomfort or soreness you feel in your muscles in the days after exercise is normal, especially if you've just increased the intensity of your workout or tried something new. But if the pain you're experiencing is unbearable or interfering with daily activities, you might want to reassess your current workout routine.

That said, if what you're feeling is typical DOMS, you might be wondering if working out with sore muscles is OK.


While it's not necessarily bad to continue working out with sore muscles, you may want to take more than a few days off if you're experiencing sharp, extreme or persistent pain.

What Is Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness?

While you're exercising, your body experiences small tears in the muscle fibers. This microscopic damage is likely the cause of DOMS. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the pain you're feeling is a side effect of the repair process that happens in response to this muscle damage.

This discomfort or soreness typically shows up 12 to 24 hours after physical activity. But don't be surprised if you feel the most pain around 24 to 72 hours after exercise. DOMS can happen if you start a new exercise or go back to something you haven't done in a while. It can also occur if you increase the intensity of an activity.

Read more: The Treatment for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Working Out With Sore Muscles

Do you ever question whether muscle pain after a workout is good or bad? If you're active most days of the week, there's a good chance you know exactly what it's like to feel the day-after burn. While dealing with muscle soreness is a part of working out, experiencing painful discomfort that severely limits your daily activity is not.

To determine whether you should work out with sore muscles, you need to assess the severity of the pain. Since many activities can cause DOMS, pay attention to how long the pain lasts. Generally speaking, DOMS can last anywhere from three to five days.

While experts say that working out with sore muscles is usually OK, you need to be aware of any sharp, strong or persistent pain. If you experience this, stop exercising and rest your body. If the pain is significantly affecting your daily activities, it's time to see your doctor.

Workouts That Work With Sore Muscles

If you're sore, but still want to stay active, modifying your routine is the way to go. Walking, low- to moderate-intensity swimming, gentle yoga or slow bike riding can all help keep you active while minimizing any further muscle soreness.

Try to avoid targeting the muscle group that's causing you the most pain. For example, if your legs are really sore, try low-impact swimming. The key to working out with sore muscles is to go slow and keep it low impact. This is a great time to focus on your warmup and cool down and spend some extra time stretching.

Read more: What Kinds of Exercises Are Considered Low-Intensity?

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