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Should You Work A Sore Muscle?

Posted by Joel Marion

Last week I told you how my buddy John Romaniello royally kicked my butt with an insane full body workout last weekend.

I woke up the next day sore as @#$%^&*.

Translation: quite sore.  Thanks, John.

So naturally, I did as a good boy should and worked out the very next day.

Huh?

Now, I’m sure you’ve been told that you should wait until all that soreness subsides before stepping in the gym again.

How can I be sure? Easy, I’ve been told that same crap more times than I can count.

Fortunately, I don’t adhere to that silliness anymore, and as a result, I’ve got more muscle and less body fat to thank for it.

You see, it’s not uncommon for delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) to last four or even five days after the completion of an intense weight training session; however, many studies have concluded that complete metabolic recovery (what you care about) occurs within 48 hours of exercise.

In other words, you ARE recovered, yet there is still some residual soreness.

Plain and simple, if metabolic recovery has taken place, a muscle can be worked again via the same training method, even if the muscle is still sore from a previous session.

Having said that, the point is altogether moot anyway as plenty of studies have shown that training a muscle while it is still recovering does NOT adversely affect recovery.

Here are just a few:

Nosaka K, Clarkson P.M. Muscle damage following repeated bouts of high force eccentric exercise. Med. Sci. Sports Exrc., 27(9):1263-1269,1995.

Smith LL., Fuylmer MG., Holbert D., McCammon MR., Houmard JA., Frazer DD., Nsien E., Isreal RG. The impact of repeated bout of eccentric exercise on muscular strength, muscle soreness and creatine kinase. Br J Sp Med 28(4):267-271, 1994.

Chen, TC and S.S. Hsieh. The effects of a seven-day repeated eccentric training on recovery from muscle damage. Med. Sci. Sports Exrc. 31(5 Supp) pp. S71, 1999.

Nosaka K and M Newton. Repeated eccentric exercise bouts do not exacerbate muscle damage and repair. J Strength Cond Res. 2002 Feb;16(1):117-22.

Conclusion: even if complete metabolic recovery has not yet occurred, the muscle can be trained again.

Now, you technically could do the same exact workout again, but frankly, there are better ways to approach working a muscle for a second time within 48 hours of a previous session:

Option #1 – Conduct an “active recovery” session.  With this approach you’d conduct a light, less taxing training session after a heavy, demanding session in order to facilitate recovery, decrease DOMS, and actually maximize strength gains.

Simply put, as long as you continue to stimulate the nervous system, even if your body is not totally recovered (metabolically speaking), you’re going to see much better overall results.

An example of this “continued stimulation” would be to do half the number of reps that you normally could do with a given weight, for say, 3 sets.

To illustrate, let’s say you did a killer squat workout on Monday. And let’s say you used a weight of 185 lbs for 12 grueling reps. With the active recovery method, on Tuesday, you’d only do 6 repetitions per set with the same 185 lb load.

This type of workout both stimulates the nervous system and increases the flow of nutrient rich blood to the recoverying muscles, leading to increased strength and recovery.

Option #2 – Change the stimulus and go all out again.  If a muscle is still recovering, it wouldn’t be profitable to train it again via the same training method prior to recovery taking place.

Yes, the above studies do show that doing so will not substantially, adversely affect metabolic recovery, but at the same time, it ain’t gonna be of benefit either.

So what to do?

Answer: use a different rep range.

By utilizing a different repetition range, you’ll stimulate different muscle fibers and in turn yield a different overall physiological response.

For example, if you conducted 5 sets of 10 in the bench press on Monday, you may want to shoot for 10 sets of 5, or 4 sets of 15 come Wednesday.

Obviously, you cannot use the above approach for every muscle group, but rather it should be utilized to bring up a lagging body part or to accelerate growth in an area you are highly motivated to train.

Lastly, I’ll quote my good friend and uber strength coach Chad Waterbury on the subject:

“Your body will only increase recovery if you force it to work more frequently. Initially, you may still have residual soreness from the previous workout, but don’t worry. Instead, work through it and the body will improve its recovery rate to the point where soreness will subside.”

Want to increase your recovery capacity, gain more muscle, increase strength, and lose more fat?  Then forget about “sitting the bench” because of a little soreness. 

Instead, get yourself back in the game quickly with one of the above two methods.  In return, you can expect a heck of a lot more progress with a heck of a lot less soreness.

So what about you?  Do you ever train a sore muscle?  Do you guage the effectiveness of your workouts by how sore you feel the next day? 

Talk to you in the comments section!

Joel

Joel

P.S.  Check out the below video from my buddy Kyle explaining one of the NEWEST methods we’re using to lose fat and gain muscle at the SAME time:

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69 comments - add yours
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Nike says just do it! I’ve usually found the greatest soreness comes two days after and I’ve also been told that’s the best time to work out again. My experience has been that if I just suck it up, focus on the goal and not the pain, the pain actually works itself out better if I work out again than if I wait. i.e. Day four will feel much better after the day one workout if if I work out on day three than if I just wait. No pain, no gain. suck it up and ‘just do it’ and my body is much better for it. Thanks for all your info, Joe and keep it coming

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Thanks for the great info! I was unsure if I should train when I am sore because I keep getting mixed messages from everyone but this makes a lot of sense! going to put it to action!!

Thanks again!

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I’m 51 so I do get sore from squats and deads. I do one on Monday and the other on Friday. I do feel a bit of sorness or tightness in the glutes & hams but after a warmup set it goes away. Mondays are my strongest day so I switch lifts every 4 weeks. I never skipped a workout due to sorness but I was very tempted to at times during a 8 week 10X10 cycle. Those high reps & sets really kicked me hard.

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Awesome post Joel. It Just so happens I’m using your high frequency training system and in the first three week of doing it I can tell a definite difference in my muscle mass size. 5 days a week of full body workout really pumps the hormones. I have add in a split week routine after ever three weeks though to give my central nerve a week for recovery so that I don’t over train it. Anyway I wanted to say that I think your system def takes our muscles to the next level. Keep up the good work!!

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Thank you so much for that! I have learned somewhere along the lines of my personal training experience that the optimal time to workout is every other day but I get questioned time and time again and lately, I was starting to doubt myself! This post was very helpful.

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Originally Posted By tonyI have the same problem, am 46 and maybe lost 25% strength from a year ago.
@JAMES -

I am 40 myself, so that is why I have added the info on proper time to recover when doing heavy intense weight sessions. I take Glucosamine HCL with MSM along with a high potency fish oil, Calcium Citrate that has Zinc and Magnesium, and a high potency multivitamin that has a lot of B12/B6. This will help with recovery on top of a solid 100% Whey Protein powder for pre/post exercise shakes.

I also suggest a good warm-up before lifting heavy and light stretching. Be sure not to make yourself hurt when stretching or you will actually make it worse, go easy. Then, post workout, take a very cold shower to reduce the lactid acid build up in the muscles and stretch on your days off.

I would also take more time between workouts so you can give your joints and tendons time to recover. If you are still tight, see a massage therapist once a week, then once every two weeks there after.

For us old guys, we have to look at the longevity of weight training and avoid injury. You young guys can workout while your sore, I’ll take the safer route. I am also recovering from a herniated disc from heavy deads, so be warned, nobody is bullet proof! ;-)

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@Joel Marion@Joel Marion

Joel,

Can you please recommend the best natural foods for pre workout and post-workout.

Cheers,

Bloggs

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@TRogers
Hi guys, interesting view on what recovery. I am a physio, speed and agility coach and athlete. My scedule is
Mon- am gym – chest back full body stretch, pm underwater hockey
Tues – am gym stretch and HIIT pm rugby (2 hours)
Wed – am gym warmup and stretch with neck work and car pulling pm rest
Thurs – am arm and trunk dynamics for speed/impact pm rugby
Fri – gym in am heavy low rep deads and squats
Sat – rest (gardening and DIY/domestic chores)
Sun – tennis/hockey/rugby coaching with my son (any sport he wants to play, often 3 or more)
Each session in he gym complimnents the next session and the session before. This is called active recovery. I use it in my patients, some of whom have severe medical conditions. Total rest is extremely rarely the answer.
Summary
Active recovery is best (needs to be specific to you)
Keep it in context with the whole week and your goals.
Hope this helps
Cheers
Theo
PS I am 38, dont train with vetrans as they are too slow, have multiple injuries from a youth spent doing stupd things like falling off motorbikes, extreme cycling and generaly kids stuff. I have not missed a hockey session or gym session in over 5 years due to injury ;O) and never do the exact same workout twice.

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I find these articles on training the same body part the following day while still sore very misleading for people who are starting out and want to build muscle. Adequate rest is essential for repair,recovery and growth of a muscle. I have been training for 12 years, when i was starting out i used to train while sore (DOMS) and made no progress what so ever as i did not know what i was doing. When i changed to giving my muscles more rest between working them i made substantial gains and progress. Calling resting muscles ‘silliness’ is ludicrous and 48 hours is not even enough time for a natural trainers muscles to recover and grow after a hard workout. Throwing around research articles to claim different is bad advice for natural trainers, and who will no doubt find out for themselves if they try it. Not everyone takes steroids.

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I feel obliged to thank you for the info. Finally read something useful, plain and simple.

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Try swimming on off days and stretching twice a week and you will see the soreness go away..
I think it is usually a problem with people who just do weight training, do a litlle more cardio and stretching and you will see results.

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a few ideas to consider…
1 – of the 3 BCAAs – Leucine is most directly involved in muscle cell protein synthesis (both hypertrophy – muscle cell size increase – and hpyerplasia – muscle cell splitting)…
Leucine has been clinically proven to dramatically reduce DOMS… so you’re not walking around like a 95 year old… (hope I’m not offending any 95 year old body builders … (I use USP Labs Modern BCAAs 8:1:1 ratio). Read the product directions on how and when to use.

2 – In a full ROM (range of motion) exercise – DOMS is only caused by the eccentric part – NOT the concentric. e.g. the concentric part of a bicep curl is moving from a straight arm to bringing the weight up to the shoulder = concentric. The eccentric part is lowering the weight – (slowly & under control)… this part is 100% responsible for DOMS… this applies to ALL resistance exercises.

3 – Bodybuilding is a process of purposefully DAMAGING the muscle tissue (short of injury of course) which stimulates the body to RECOVER and build it up even stronger for the next workout for that SPECIFIC body part.

Following your workout of a targeted body part, your muscles follow a relatively SPECIFIC timeline for PROCESSING the damage, fully RECOVERING from that damage, and then GROWING the muscle tissue for INCREASED MASS before it can be ready for another focused lifting set for that SAME body part.
Following your workout (and we’re talking about an allout, balls-to-the-wall effort here), your muscles take approximately 3 DAYS to fully BREAK DOWN and excrete the damaged tissue, preparing for the next phase of recuperation.
RECOVERY and INCREASE in MUSCLE MASS then takes ANOTHER 3-4 DAYS
before that bodypart can again be targeted for PRIMARY emphasis in your workout.
working a body part MORE than ONCE a week is absolute NONSENSE!
Can you imagine if, on Day 4 or 5, you hit that body part AGAIN with a focused workout? (or 2 days as recommended here)…
You would be hard-pressed to make it into that all-important… ANABOLIC ZONE…
Another view point… eh? Research always throws up opposing ideas.

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yep reading this i thought,”classic example of texas method, 5×5 – volume session with big movements, then session with less volume and 80% of weight , and finishing the week with intense yet low volume session.”;)

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What about fatigue after a grueling workout.
Should you give in to that too as i find i usually end up getting sick with a cold or flu. Sometimes it takes 2 -3 or even 4 days to recover.
I usually just do light walking or some other lighter activity.
What’s your opinion on that?

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Great article for all of us “exercise-aholics”! I am a runner, tennis player and do some weight training. I have worked out my entire life and what I’ve found is that it is helpful to work out after an episode of soreness. What works for me is to continue training, but with a little less weight and a little slower. Normally if I do this, I recover within about 48 hours. I also work in healthcare and the times I DON”T push it is if my knees hurt to put pressure on them or my low back is aching! I’ve treated many athletes who over did it and something as simple as putting on their socks got them into an emergency room! Thanks for the article!

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Hi Joel,

You cited to studies on the eccentric phase of the movement, like the straightening down motion in the biceps curl. Has research found the same results with the concentric phase?

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Having always worked out for at least 4 times a week at high intensity, i am now severely frustrated as due to back pain and sciatica, I have not been able to train for 6 weeks and the pain is not getting better. What would you suggest to help please?! Wendy

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@ Per:
I too get serious muscle pain after a hard workout. I recommend and what i have been doing for many years is not waiting for muscle to recover completely i know this goes against what everything says out there.. I use a spry called Privic i got this online its for people who suffer from “restless” legs and I use for my muscle pain, its all natural so im not afraid to over use it. but i swear by this stuff. Hope someone else finds relief from it too. keep up the work outs!

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Thanks UC. You’ve been badged by The Spy!

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