Should You Continue Running When Sore?

Here’s how to determine if you need a rest day—plus the best strategies for easing soreness.


After you finish a tough workout, whether it’s an interval run, hill repeats, or lifting weights at the gym, you probably expect strength as your reward. But instead, you may wake up the next day or a few days later with stiff, dull, and achy muscles.

This soreness is just one result of your hard workout and can actually indicate that you are, in fact, getting stronger, even if you’re feeling a bit uncomfortable.

The problem is, soreness can also indicate running-related injuries or even, in some cases, health-related issues. This is why we tapped a few experts to explain everything you need to know about running when sore, so you can better determine whether it’s smart to keep clocking kilometres as usual or if it’s better to take an extra rest day.

Should you continue running when sore?
In short, yes, you can keep running when you’re sore. While soreness can make running feel uncomfortable, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stop.

“All runners are going to experience some soreness, especially if they’re trying to push their distance or increase their speed,” says Kevin Gard, vice chair of the department of physical therapy and rehabilitation at Drexel University. The reason being exercise causes micro tears in your tissue, which causes sore muscles, says Gard.

What’s known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) typically occurs after a workout and can last anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. Although DOMS can make running uncomfortable, going for an easy run when you’re sore can help ease the pain and potentially boost performance.

According to a systematic review and meta-analysis published Physical Therapy in Sport in 2021active recovery can have a significant effect on easing DOMS and it’s one way to address soreness. Similarly, a review published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2019 notes that six- to 10-minutes of active recovery post-workout can help with the removal of blood lactate, which is bi-product of intense exercise, and can have a positive effect on athletic performance. However, researchers couldn’t confirm the benefits of active recovery outside of the six to ten-minute session post-workout (meaning on active recovery days).

This evidence supports the case for running when sore, but whether or not you do so will depend on the reason behind your soreness, as well as the severity of it.

As for when not to run when you’re sore, pay attention to how you’re running. If your soreness affects your running gait, both Gard and Dr John Vasudevan, associate professor of clinical physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pennsylvania, co-director of the Penn Medicine Running and Endurance Sports Programme, and medical advisor for Runner’s World, agree you should skip your workout for the day or opt for cross-training.

Running while extremely sore will cause further micro-tearing and inflammation, which can lead to more soreness or an injury, says Gard.

What causes soreness?
“Soreness at its root means that your muscles are unable to keep up with the demand placed on them and there’s a lot of reasons for it,” says Vasudevan.

As we mentioned earlier, changes in your training, like increasing your pace or distance, or even a change in terrain or elevation can cause sore muscles. Sore muscles can also indicate you’re not eating enough of the right nutrients, not clearing waste products properly, or that there’s an underlying condition, says Vasudevan.

After a while, your body should be able to adjust to changes in your training, says Vasudevan. If not, and you’re consistently sore all the time, this can be a sign of various health conditions like high cholesterol, liver disease, or kidney disease, Vasudevan explains.

This is why he recommends consulting with your primary care physician who can identify and address the root cause of your soreness, particularly if it lasts more than a few days. Also, reach out to your physician if you’re experiencing numbing, tingling, muscle weakness, or soreness in a new area, as this can indicate an injury.

How can you make running when sore more comfortable?
Running when sore isn’t fun, but it doesn’t have to derail your training. Here’s some tips on how to manage:

Hydrate and Fuel
Inadequate nutrition might contribute to soreness, as it could leave you dehydrated and depleted of antioxidants — nutrients found in foods like fruits and vegetables — which you need to counteract post-workout oxidative stress and inflammation, says Dr Amrita Brooke, adjunct professor in the Department of Movement Sciences and Health at University of West Florida and Runner’s World sports dietitian and nutrition advisor. This is why it’s important to consume a well-balanced diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein, which runners need to repair muscle.

Runners need an adequate mix of carbohydrates and protein for short-term refuelling and muscle repair post-workout, adds Vasudevan. If you don’t consume enough protein, then your muscles won’t be able to work properly during a workout, nor will they be able to recover properly, he adds.

Stretch it Out
Dynamic stretching before a run can help loosen up your muscles, so when you start running, your body is better able to handle the stress of the workout, and therefore, you’re less likely to experience as much force, which can contribute to soreness, says Gard. During your warm-up, focus on moves that target your quads, hamstrings, calves, and hips. Gard recommends adding high kicks, butt kicks, and side-leg swings to your warmup routine to target these areas.

If you don’t stretch before a run, run the first mile slowly so you can loosen up your muscles, says Gard. Afterward, make sure you take time to cool down with static stretches focusing on your quads, hamstrings, calves, and hips, which can also help reduce stiffness and soreness, he adds.

Focus on Easy Runs
“All of your training periods should incorporate easy days in them, where you are trying to recover from a more difficult workout,“ says Gard. “Oftentimes, doing that [easy run] will help increase the blood flow to your muscles, will help loosen them up a little bit, and may actually help you feel better for a little while.”

To keep your easy runs actually easy, aim for a 5 or a 6 out of 10 on the rate of perceived exertion scale, or 60 to 70 percent of your max heart rate, which is zone 2. Also, gradually increase your mileage using the 10 percent rule so you avoid soreness from upping your distance too quickly.

Cross Train
Sometimes soreness is your body telling you it is recovering from a prior stress. If that prior stress was another run, it may be better to space out time until your next run,” says Vasudevan. In that case, turn to cross-training, which could include yoga, swimming, and/or cycling, he adds.

In the review published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research mentioned above, cycling and jogging were mentioned to have potential physiological effects that increase an athlete’s perception of recovery. In the same review, researchers noted athletes expressed feeling “more rested” and “better prepared” for upcoming bouts of exercise after these active recovery sessions.

Switch Up the Terrain
“Harder running surfaces create larger ground reaction forces that get transmitted through a runner’s legs. Over time, this creates trauma to the legs and creates soreness,” says Gard. This is why he recommends running on softer surfaces, like grass or gravel, which provides a softer impact as opposed to concrete.

Also, downhill running can make you especially susceptible to soreness. “Downhill running requires that the legs perform eccentric contractions — which essentially is a contraction of the muscle while it is lengthening—to control a runner’s mass as they run downhill,” says Gard.

Massage, Soak, or Foam Roll
Many runners find relief in massage, epsom salt baths, foam rolling, and other common remedies for treating sore muscles.

In a systematic review published in the Journal of Body Work and Movement Therapies in 2020researchers concluded foam rolling can help reduce muscle stiffness and pain. They also mentioned foam rolling may help athletes return to their normal performance faster.

Just note, in terms of research for common remedies there isn’t a specific prescription to follow, says Gard. So in this case, it’s all about what works best for you for adding these recovery tactics to your schedule.

Consider Your Drug and Alcohol Use
When it comes to treating sore muscles you have to look at the big picture, too, which includes your alcohol and drug use — even if it’s not excessive or elicit.

“Everything we absorb in our digestive tract enters the blood and then is broken down and converted into nutrients and other chemicals that can be absorbed by our muscles to provide the energy they need to function efficiently and rebuild after microtrauma [like exercise],” says Vasudevan.

When you ingest alcohol and other drugs, the liver is forced to break these down instead of the more healthful food and drink your body needs to recover from exercise and combat soreness, he adds.

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