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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.


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!



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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