You want to see the changes, feel the progress. You have a great workout, and then... it sets in!
The stiffness, the aching, the tightness. What’s it all for? Did you damage yourself? When should you workout again?
As you increase your workout load (new activity, higher intensity, getting back at it), you cause mild inflammation and microscopic damage to your muscle fibres due to the increased load, resulting in muscle soreness and stiffness. This is normal! You are adapting to the new activity, allowing for a faster recovery, with less soreness and less muscle tissue damage when that same activity is repeated. You are getting stronger.
This is delayed onset muscle soreness – normal but not essential for muscle growth. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is described as a low-level soreness, ache, tightness, or discomfort felt most strongly 24-72 hours after the workout. It is NOT sharp, searing, stabbing or sudden pains that alter your range of motion and function.
You can absolutely return to exercise when you are still experiencing a low-level soreness such as DOMS. The soreness should decrease as you warm up; however, it will likely return once you’ve cooled down.
Consider focussing on exercises that target less affected muscles to allow the most affected muscles to recover before being exposed to a repeated load progression. To help manage the symptoms of DOMs, you can rest, ice, massage, do a light workout, and move! If your soreness level is more than a “low level,” avoid strenuous exercise until it decreases so you do not cause further damage or potentially lead to overtraining syndrome.
So, yes! Do the exercise, feel the gain and do it again!