Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a weekend warrior, you’ve probably dealt with some muscle fatigue, discomfort or soreness that leaves you wondering whether it’s safe to work out. The answer? It depends, says Josh Davidson, therapy supervisor at Bryn Mawr Rehab, part of Main Line Health.
“In order to stay healthy and achieve your workout goals, you have to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and work hard. A certain degree of discomfort is normal, but pushing through too much pain during your exercise can actually hinder your workout goals.”
When it’s safe to work out
If you’ve recently challenged your body with a new workout or a more intense workout, it’s normal to feel mild soreness in the affected areas. This is also true if you’ve recently returned to exercise after a hiatus.
While you may think some soreness is a sign you’ve overdone it, Davidson says it’s actually a sign that your workout is effective.
“It’s normal for your body to respond this way. By way of your workout, you’ve woken up your muscles or challenged them. Soreness is your body’s response to this,” he explains.
In most cases, this soreness and fatigue will resolve after a few hours or a rest day.
If you’ve been working out more intensely than usual for several days, you might experience another kind of soreness called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It often lasts longer than acute soreness, about three to five days, but doesn’t mean you need to stop exercise altogether.
“Proper hydration and nutrition and light exercise—like a walk, biking or swimming—can actually help prevent or ease the symptoms of DOMS,” says Davidson.
Sit out your workout
A workout isn’t always the answer, though. There are several different types of pain that mean it’s time to stop your workout, including:
- Sharp or stabbing pain
- Pain that changes how your body moves or prohibits you from completing your workout
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Chest pain
“Pain that strikes you during your workout or prevents you from completing it is a sign that something is wrong. Ignoring those signs can mean more pain and, potentially, long-term injury,” says Davidson.
These pains may be a sign of overuse, a muscle strain or sprain or something else. If you do experience pain like this, put a hold on your exercise routine until you’re cleared by your doctor to return.
Preventing exercise pain
Even the most careful among us can find themselves sidelined by pain, but you can decrease your chance of injury by making rest days a part of your workout routine.
“It’s just as important to schedule rest days for your body as it is to challenge it,” says Davidson. “This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be inactive; you can pursue gentler exercise options like walking or gentle yoga.”
Adding variety to your workout can help, too. If you’re accustomed to strength training, try cardio exercise a few days per week. If you’re dedicated to pounding the pavement on morning runs, try to switch out one day of cardio for some exercises at home using your own body weight like planks or squats. This prevents one are of your body from suffering from overuse.
Before you begin any exercise routine, talk to your doctor to make sure your fitness regimen is safe for you.
Fitness—just for you
The Main Line Health Fitness & Wellness Center, located at the Main Line Health Center in Concordville, offers personalized fitness programs, with professional guidance and motivation every step of the way. Our programming includes specialized wellness programs for members with a range of health issues, including diabetes and cancer. Each membership includes quarterly nurse assessments and meetings with a personal trainer, who can help determine the best fitness program for you.