For many of us, exercise is just as good for our mental health as it is for our physical. So there’s nothing more annoying than when you really want to lift some weights to get out the frustrations of the day, but your body is already feeling super achy.
We (kind of) know that we should rest our muscles, but is this just fitness scaremongering? How bad is it really to train when you’re already feeling the burn? We spoke to some experts to get to the bottom of it all.
What do aches actually mean?
Sore muscles after a workout can give you such a sense of achievement – it shows that you’ve smashed your session, and the feeling of pride is well worth it. However, did you know there was a name for those sore muscles? These aches are called DOMS – delayed onset of muscle soreness. Dr Zubair Ahmed of Medicspot says: “The soreness is usually caused by micro-tears in the muscles and a build-up of exercise by-products such as lactic acid and calcium which are reduced after a period of cooling down.
“Micro-tears in the muscles contribute to their growth and repair, along with a healthy and balanced diet and a sufficient amount of rest.”
This is good news – chances are this pain will pass quickly, and is indicative of your muscles getting stronger.
What happens if you train with DOMS?
Good news – aches don’t actually mean you have to hit pause on training. Ahmed says: “DOMS prevents many of us from continuing exercise due to worries about causing an injury or worsening the pain. However, avoiding all activity due to soreness of the muscles is often unnecessary.”
This is quite surprising, because we’re constantly told that it’s a bad idea to exercise when you’re already feeling achy. However, perhaps the focus should be less on resting and more on stretching.
Ahmed explains: “While you should be more cautious when exercising with aching muscles, it is unlikely to cause harm to your body or set back your progress.
“The pain should be used as a reminder that it might be time to cool down and stretch after exercise. However, if you are experiencing extreme muscle weakness, you should arrange to see a doctor immediately.”
Stretching is beneficial in giving you a chance to check in on your body and ascertain whether your aches are from training, or if there’s something more serious going on. In the latter instance, it’s wise to hold up on exercise until you’ve seen a GP.
What if you want to stay active but give your body a bit of a rest anyway?
Even though you might not need to rest if you’re experiencing DOMS, it might mean that you’re not able to train to the best of your ability. This is why sometimes it’s a good idea to take things down a notch, and do some less intense physical activity.
Loui Fazakerley, mobility expert and PT at Third Space in London, gives his recommendations: “Some mobility training and low intensity cardio (LIIT or LISS) will actually be beneficial when you’re feeling achy.
“This will provide fresh blood flow to your damaged muscles to help speed up your recovery and also help them return to their optimal length. This will allow you to get back to training hard again the following day.”
So maybe you could try your hand at some Pilates, yoga or even just a nice walk.
Expert advice is all very well and good, but it’s all about listening to your own body. You shouldn’t be scared of exercising when you’re achy, just as long as you make sure you’re not overdoing it and worsening any deeper issues.