Training check-in: sore muscles

This week, we’re circling back with Courtney, who’s one week into her training for the Fort4Fitness half marathon race. 

“I feel good. The mileage has been fairly low and manageable so that helps. I do notice, however, that if I run anywhere with a lot of hills or uneven ground, I get really sore in my hamstrings. I feel a lot of extra tension in my calves as well. I'm never sure how much soreness is normal, and when it's a sign of a bigger problem.”

Muscle soreness is a fairly common side effect of exercise. We asked Candice Dunkin, MS, LAT, ATC, Parkview Sports Medicine, to offer tips for Courtney and the rest of the runners and walkers training for race day. 


Some discomfort may accompany exercise because of stress placed on the body. Healthy soreness is a sign that your training program is strengthening your body. But it’s important to know the difference between soreness that is beneficial and pain that signals an injury.

Know your limits.  
In order to improve your physical fitness, your body needs to be pushed to an appropriate level where gains can occur. This is called your individual activity threshold. Your individual activity threshold is based on many factors, including your age, baseline strength and level of sports or exercise. When you are on the safe side of your threshold, you’ll experience muscular soreness, not pain. One expected outcome of sports and exercise is that your individual activity threshold will increase over time. For example, when you start running, your safe threshold might be 5 minutes of running. After several weeks of training, your threshold may increase to 25 minutes.

Pain or soreness?
There is one primary difference between healthy muscle soreness and pain: Healthy muscle soreness is an expected result of sports or exercise, while pain is an unhealthy and abnormal response.

Healthy muscle soreness is characterized by:
• Tenderness when muscles are touched
• A burning feeling during exercise
• A minimal dull, achy feeling at rest

You might feel this during exercise, or 24 to 72 hours afterward. However, this soreness goes away in two or three days, and it improves with gentle stretching and movement. Pain is when you feel a sharp ache or discomfort while exercising or at rest. It happens during, or within 24 hours of, exercise. Pain may require ice or rest before it subsides, and continued exercise aggravates the discomfort.

It might be time to consult a physician or physical therapist when pain is extreme or doesn’t go away within one or two weeks. When training, be realistic about your individual activity threshold. If you build the intensity of your routine gradually over time – and you know the difference between soreness and pain – you’ll be in great shape to achieve your race goals safely. 


Share your training setbacks and successes in the comments section or by tweeting at @parkviewhealth with #runthefort. 

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