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Should I Work Out With DOMS?

The Scary Things That Happen When You Ignore Pain and Keep Training

There are times when you're sore from a new workout, and then there are times when you experience something a little scarier: DOMS. Delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is more intense muscular pain caused by microtears in the muscles and usually sets in between 24 and 48 hours after a new workout or intense physical activity.

If you're sore, is it still OK to work out? While general, mild soreness is OK, it's not the best idea to keep breaking down your muscles when you've got something more serious like DOMS. We consulted Jan Milano, CSCS and sports performance coach at DIAKADI in San Francisco, to learn more about overtraining syndrome, and sure enough, he had plenty to say about pushing through a workout when you're suffering from DOMS.

His advice? If you're dealing with this delayed muscular soreness, you need to take a break from intense workouts. If you've been training hard, he said, "doing another session of hard, intense physical activity while experiencing DOMS should be avoided." This is "due to several mechanical and biomechanical reasons," which he detailed for us.

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  • You're prolonging the DOMS. If you're already sore, your muscles are recovering from microtears, which are "sensitive and fragile." If you keep going, you won't heal. "Overstretching of the muscle when sore can easily lead to the microtears getting worse, prolonging the recovery and repair time of the muscle," Milano said. More training, more paining.
  • You're inhibiting good hormone production. Milano told us that continuing with intense exercise while experiencing DOMS "can attenuate secretion of crucial hormones like growth hormone, which is a key factor for improvement on recovery, performance, and even body composition." If you're trying to get stronger or gain muscle, this is stuff you're trying to keep in your body — so don't mess with it!
  • It could cause long-term damage. If you overdo it while you have DOMS, Milano warned that it could lead to the dangerous effects of overtraining syndrome.

If you're in pain, take a rest day. However, you don't need to skip all workouts. In fact, according to Milano, research has shown that some lighter activities could actually help your recovery. "Activities like walking or light swimming, which are nonimpact activities, could positively affect the recovery time of the athlete or individual," he said. So if you can't rest and you're on some kind of training program, consider an active rest day with some LISS cardio or another exercise without impact.

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