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  • Writer's pictureTami-Adrian George

Are You Just Sore, Or Are You Injured? When You Should Skip Your Workout.

There are times when you should and times when you should not skip a workout. But how do you know which is the best way to go? When it comes to exercise , we all want to push ourselves so that we'll keep making progress, but sometimes we end up pushing a little too hard. You tell yourself, "Just a bit more weight, just a few more reps, just one more block!" Well, that's where the problems can start because we're not just pushing ourselves, we're ignoring the signals our body is sending us.

If you're experiencing muscle soreness...which can feel truly awful... you can probably modify your exercises to make them less painful. But if you're actually injured, then skipping your workout is definitely the right thing to do. In this blog post, we'll discuss the differences between soreness and injury, and provide some tips on how to modify your workouts when you are feeling sore.

Now, if you're getting pain signals regularly, after any fitness activity, then that's the ultimate sign that something in your exercise program is not right for you. We'll also talk about when it might be time to revamp your workouts altogether!

What is the difference between soreness and injury?

Ugh, it’s one of the great mysteries of the human body - distinguishing between soreness and injury. It can be quite frustrating to feel like your efforts at living a healthier lifestyle are being thwarted.

On one hand, you want to listen to your body and give it the rest it needs to heal. Sounds reasonable, right? On the other hand, you don't want to be a baby about every little ache and owie. Aren't we always hearing about athletes pushing past the pain and surging toward victory? (Personally, I’m against glorifying the painful win.) So how can you tell the difference? Especially when signs like limited range of motion or tenderness to the touch can show up either way.

One way to tell is by the quality of the pain.

Soreness is more of a generalized discomfort that tends to get better with time. That stiff ache usually goes away after a few days, pain from injury will not. Over a short period of time, the affected area should also be less tender when touched and your range of motion should be increasing.

Injury, however, usually results in sharp, localized pain that is immediately apparent and longer lasting. You can't move or put weight on the area or even taking a deep breath hurts, too. Injury may also sometimes be accompanied by rapid, localized swelling.

Of course, if you're ever in doubt, it's always best to err on the side of caution and talk to your doctor.

So, how can you modify your workouts when you're feeling sore and you’re not injured?

Here are some DOs & DON’Ts

DO> Try reducing the amount of weight you're lifting, the range of motion you're using, or the duration of your sets. It may go against what many people believe about how to get results at the gym. But in reality, it can be an effective way to challenge your body, break through plateaus, and engage your muscles just enough to allow for more blood flow and oxygen...which will make you feel less sore!

A couple of examples:

•If you normally bench press 200 pounds for 8-10 reps, try using 100 pounds for 12-15 reps, and only do 1 set.

•If you usually squat with a deep range of motion and heavy weight, try doing shallower squats with a slightly lighter weight. Do multiple sets, but decrease the number of reps in each set

Can you modify your Pilates session as well? Heck Yeah!!! Every single Pilates exercise can be altered to fit your body in that moment. You may be surprised at how much more challenging these "reduced" workouts can be. And who knows, you may even find that you prefer them!

DON'T> Skipping days altogether. If you're just feeling sore, taking a break might make the problem worse. You need to breathe and move in order to help alleviate that Delayed Muscle Onset Soreness. (DOMS...see, it happens so often its even got its own acronym!)

Switching your focus to either another muscle group entirely or to another form of exercise can be exactly what you need. Are you pectorals sore because at your last workout session you decided the All Planks, All the Time program was the one for you? Then your next workout is LEG DAY!!! Maybe your next Pilates session works on breathing, stretching and lengthening your body. You’ll get back to more strength challenging sessions soon enough!

DO> Drinking plenty of water. You can't hear it enough. Get your basic water needs in, then drink some more! That feeling of soreness is often increased by dehydration. Why? Because when your body is dehydrated, so is your brain! The brain is 75% water and a dehydrated brain gets fatigued and stressed, then it feels increased levels of pain.

Let's not forget that water also does important jobs for our muscles. Water flushes our bodies of cellular waste and helps to lubricate our joints. Our inflammation levels go down, and so does the pain and discomfort. So make sure you're drinking enough non-caffeinated fluids to stay hydrated. (We'll talk about electrolytes another time!)

DON'T> Overdoing it. Pushing yourself too hard when you're sore and achy is not the way to go. We have a terrible ideal in America...If some is good, then more must be better! That rarely turns out to be true, especially when you need to take it a little easier on your body.

Decided to just ignore those pain signals in hopes of getting past your soreness? Then you're setting yourself up for a vicious cycle that will never end. You’ll now get the joy of being stiff and achy all of the time. Not to mention you‘ll also make your body more prone to injury, and weaken your immune system…Yay, a cold, too! So if you need to take a day or two off, do it.

So, when should you skip a workout?

Let's face it, we've all been there. You were feeling good, you were motivated, and you were ready to smash your workout goals. BRING IT! But then, out of nowhere, you feel a twinge in your shoulder or a sharp pain in your knee or you roll your ankle. You can hardly move your arm, or putting any weight on that knee feels like torture, or your ankle swells up to a size you didn't know was possible!! This is not the time to suck it up, Buttercup. Take a rest day! Or 2 or more!

What gives? It's possible that you may be seriously injured and not even know it. Only your doctor can tell you if that sharp pain just needs healing time, or if more serious medical intervention is required. If your pain continues to throb dully, is localized, and persistent, it's possible that you've sustained a minor injury. So, YES Please, skip that workout and maybe a few more days worth, too.

If the pain is not excrutiating, you're not bleeding, and the area's not discolored or deformed, you can try some basic home remedies before seeing the doctor. Over the counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatories can be very helpful.

And here’s your warning…pretend I’m wiggling my finger at you!


I've seen the damage that comes from taking Rx pain meds or muscles relaxers that were borrowed from a friend...Those heavy duty meds can trick you into thinking your ok, and you end up making the injury much worse! Let’s not even talk about the dangers of pills you don’t know the history of!

Ok, I’m done mothering you!

An oldie but a goody is RICE...not the kind you eat. The RICE method is a simple self-care technique that helps reduce swelling, ease pain, and speed up healing. It works especially well if you apply the technique right away.

• Rest - Nothing beats a little taking it easy time to help the body heal.

• Ice* - 15-20 minutes, every 2-3hours, within the first 24 to 48 hours after your injury.

• Compression - Not too tightly, a simple pressure wrap with an ACE bandage cuts down swelling.

• Elevation - Get the injured part above your heart...and not just when you're icing it.

*If you missed that initial window of time after your injury, and you aren't quite ready to have a doctor take a look at it, you can try applying heat to the area first for 10-15 mins, gently move the injured area with some very passive stretches, then immediately go into the RICE protocol.

If the pain doesn't subside and you can't return to your normal activities in a few days, then get Thee to your Doctor!!

Why it might be time to revamp your workouts altogether.

Now, if you find yourself feeling sore all the time, or you keep getting injured, then it's definitely time for a new approach. Maybe your workouts have gotten stale, or you're starting to dread going to the gym or to your regular class...That’s your body’s way of telling you NEXT!

And that's OK! It's actually really good for you to switch up your routine from time to time - your body will thank you.

The Bottom Line

Pain is just your body trying to communicate with you.

So, don’t ignore those incoming messages! It’s important that you learn the difference between soreness pain and injury pain. Then you‘ll have a better idea of what those next steps should be. The sooner you’re back to feeling good, the sooner you can get back to crushing those fitness goals. Consider taking a moment to look back at how you’ve been feeling after your workouts. Those pain signals may just be your body telling you that it’s high time to change your fitness go-to‘s. Try moving toward an approach that’s more beneficial to you!

You Know I’m talking about Pilates, Right?!

One of the many things I love about Pilates training if the fact that it has variety built into The Method. I’m not just talking about mixing up what piece of equipment you’re using. I mean that modifications and the constant change-of-focus on different muscle groupings are what makes Pilates so versatile. It’s truly the ultimate in cross training. Expanding flexibility is another one of the benefits that I love about this form of exercise. The more flexible your muscles the less prone you are to injury, the quicker your body bounces back from the DOMS! ‘Nuf Said!!

Yes, there are plenty of other options out there. It might take some trial and error to find what works best for you, but it'll be worth it in the end. Remember, your exercise should benefit your body and your well-being. If your workout is making you feel awful, then it's probably not the right workout for you!

If you’re not familiar with what Pilates training can offer you, schedule a phone consultation with me! Maybe you’ve done Pilates before, but it just didn’t click for you? Let’s Talk. You may need a different approach with someone who understands what your goals are!

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