So, you kicked off the New Year with a great resistance workout and left the gym beaming with pride, but now your muscles are so stiff and sore that it hurts to even walk. Should you give your body a break or grind through the pain and keep going, forcing your body to adjust to your new exercise routine?

There is no simple answer to this question because it depends on the intensity and duration of the pain.

How Bad Is the Pain?

There are two main types of muscle soreness associated with intense resistance training: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and Rhabdomyolysis.

DOMS – the Annoying Pain

DOMS is caused by microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. Although that sounds kind of bad, it’s actually part of the muscle building process. The amount of damage varies depending on the intensity, duration and type of exercise.

The soreness starts as early as 12 hours after an intense workout and can last several days. However, the worst pain occurs about 48 hours after the workout when you’re first starting out. Your body gets acclimated in a few days and the pain goes away.

Rhabdomyolysis – the Dangerous Pain

The second and more serious type of muscle soreness is called rhabdomyolysis. It occurs when a direct or indirect muscle injury causes the death of muscle fibers, releasing toxic substances into the bloodstream. This can lead to kidney failure if the kidneys are unable to remove these wastes from the body.

Rhabdomyolysis can happen to anyone, from beginners to pros. Its symptoms are muscle pain, weakness, problems with urination, brown or dark red urine, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and vomiting. If you experience these symptoms after a particularly tough workout, rush to the ER immediately.

Bottom line, if you’re only experiencing mild soreness that makes walking up the stairs uncomfortable, or when stretching your arms or legs in a certain way, it’s perfectly okay to continue your workouts. In fact, it’s likely that the pain will decrease significantly after you’ve been exercising for a few minutes and your muscles are warm and filled with blood. However, don’t push yourself as hard as you did the previous day; go lighter.

If the pain is bad enough that you think you might have sprained something, take a day off. However, keep in mind that a day can easily turn into a couple of days or week. Get back to your workouts as soon as the pain reaches manageable levels. Push yourself but in a healthy way.

How Long Have You Been Sore?

Other than the intensity of the pain, you should also consider the duration. DOMS should be gone within 3 to 7 days without any form of therapy. If the soreness lasts longer than this and your workout performance declines noticeably, your body may be trying to tell you that it’s time to chill out.

Take a day or two off and increase your protein intake to speed up muscle recovery. Alternatively, you can change your workout to give the sore muscles time to heal. If you have overworked your abs and arms, give them a break and focus on your legs for a couple of workouts – but remember to give your legs at least one day off between workouts as you should never work the same muscle group two days in a row (the exception to this rule might be abs; it’d be wise to seek advice from your personal trainer).

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness happens to everyone; most times you can push through the pain and discomfort. However, if the pain is too intense or lasts longer than a week, it would be wise to take a break and seek medical attention.

Always remember that an object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. We were built to move! So, do what you need to do to be healthy and well, and don’t let pain keep you on the sidelines indefinitely (unless it’s an injury) because your body will start to deteriorate, which is much worse for your life and health in the long run.

(Photo credit courtesy of Trainer Academy

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