In the bodybuilding community, it is common to hear the mantra ‘No pain, no gain.’ If you’re not sore, they say, your muscles aren’t growing.
Well what about for running? Bigger muscles aren’t necessarily beneficial for endurance athletes, but we still get sore from time to time. Should we continue to run when this happens?
While researchers don’t know exactly where the soreness comes from, it can be due to inflammation – the response of the body to a new ‘injury’ such as micro tears to the tissue which occur during a strenuous workout. Researchers also think that eccentric muscle actions, like the landing portion of a running stride, can result in higher DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness.)
However, an increase in muscle soreness doesn’t necessarily reflect an increase in muscle damage. Conversely, a decrease in soreness is not always indicative of less muscle damage, either.
Can I run again? Will it hurt me or damage me more if I run while my muscles are sore? Running again likely won’t be a bad idea unless it makes you run differently. If the soreness is intense or ranked a 5 or 6 on the Likert scale, it might, and that could be detrimental from an injury/risk standpoint.
Am I running for fun? Will running with pain levels somewhere in the higher ranges of the Likert scale make running less fun? Then take a rest!
Are you in a high volume phase of your training and need to keep running? Then concentrate on things that ‘fill the tank’ such as sleep and good nutrition to help you run despite muscle soreness.
So, the short answer is not black and white, rather, ‘It depends.’
Likert Scale of Muscle Soreness
Via High, Howley and Franks in the Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport, 1989.
- A light pain felt only when touched / a vague ache
- A moderate pain felt only when touched/a slight persistent pain
- A light pain when walking up or down stairs
- A light pain when walking on a flat surface / painful
- A moderate pain, stiffness or weakness when walking / very painful
- A severe pain that limits my ability to move