There’s a fine line runners face when deciding whether to push through soreness and fatigue or skip a run altogether. A little soreness is to be expected, but knowing how much is too much is the secret to avoiding injuries. Fortunately, there are some questions you can ask yourself to determine which side of the fence you’re better off staying on.
To help you make the important decision before overuse injuries set in, consider these principles to get faster and avoid injury as you progress through your training plan.
WHEN SORENESS IS OK
Anytime you run a particularly long or hard workout (like an interval session), some muscle soreness and fatigue is to be expected. This is part of the process your body has to go through to adapt to the activity, and it is important to build fitness and improve performance. Pushing through when you don’t feel 100% not only makes you physically stronger, but it can help you mentally, too.
As long as your muscle soreness isn’t too severe, running the following day may help you feel better than taking the day off completely. This is because running increases blood flow to your muscles and joints, which can help to remove some of the waste products built up from your previous workout and increase the mobility in your joints to ease stiffness.
The Type of Run to Try When Sore: While it’s generally OK to run when you’re mildly sore or fatigued, it’s best to keep things light. A recovery run following a hard day is all you need to reduce soreness if it wasn’t severe in the first place. This usually consists of a slow pace in Zone 1 or 2 for about 30–40 minutes or 3–4 miles. Following this up with some stretching or foam rolling is also a good idea to work out the kinks after your muscles have been warmed up properly. End your sessions by icing any sore areas so they don’t become problematic.
WHEN SORENESS TURNS TO PAIN
Muscle soreness and fatigue are different from pain. A pulling sensation in your hamstring or a stabbing pain in your quadriceps isn’t something you should push through. Likewise, if you have severe soreness, running the next day can actually make your muscles feel worse and may cause you to compensate during your run. If after the first 5–10 minutes of a run you start to feel worse, you’ll probably want to call it a day.
Alternatively, if your pain or soreness is from a tendon or joint and not muscular, you should always use caution. Achilles tendon, quadriceps tendon or generalized pain in the knee, for instance, can turn into something worse if you continue to push through. Rather than risking tendonitis or patellofemoral pain syndrome developing, in these instances you should be smart and take a day off. Ice, stretch or even cross-train with a low-impact activity instead.
Are there red flags for pain? There are times when you don’t have tendon or joint pain that you probably still shouldn’t run. Running may do you more harm than good when:
- You’ve just completed a long race. Anything above the half-marathon distance causes trauma to the body. Instead of sticking to a strict training plan, recover properly by taking a day off to rest or completing a low-impact activity to get your blood flowing and reduce soreness.
- You pushed too hard too soon. During training, sometimes you run a little further or faster than your body is ready for. Rather than continuing to push the next day and risk overtraining, resting is the right alternative. This gives your bones, tendons and muscles adequate time to adapt and repair before heading out on the road again.
- You fail the walk test. If you’ve run a marathon, then you probably know this feeling. If walking is difficult the next day, you pushed too hard. Running should be out of the picture for a day or two until you start to feel better.
Four Good Alternatives When You Can’t Run: For those days when running isn’t a good idea, there are plenty of other alternatives you can partake in to ease those sore muscles, joints and tendons. Here are a few ideas you can use to stay in shape and still get a workout in on those non-running days:
- Cycling: Cycling still works your cardiovascular system, but because it’s low-impact you won’t place additional stress on your joints. Just keep in mind jumping into a spin class might not be what you’re looking for, since these classes are a lot like interval sessions. Keep it light and head out for an easy spin for 30–40 minutes to get your blood flowing.
- Elliptical trainer: This machine at your local gym is similar to the running motion but decreases the amount of impact on your joints. Instead of a recovery run when you’re feeling a bit too much soreness, go easy on this machine for 20–30 minutes.
- Swimming: Instead of continuing to stress your lower body, why not work your upper body instead? Swimming is a great way to continue to improve your endurance while building strength in the shoulders and back.
- Yoga: Stretching and improving core strength helps you become a better runner and prevents injury. Adding a session or two of yoga per week will definitely do the trick, and can be a great way to work out sore muscles the day after a hard run.