safe to say that muscle soreness is something
EVERY trainer has experienced at some point in
their career. Severity of muscle soreness (known
as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS for short)
can range from mild discomfort when you move to
the point of being almost crippling.
One of the most frequent questions I am asked
is "should you train when your muscles are
answer is not quite as simple as some people make
it out to be, though. Many trainers will tell
you "if the muscle is still sore, don't train
it." And, in truth, for many people that's
the safest answer.
in fact, by NOT training when you're sore, you
could actually be missing out on results AND slowing
down your recovery!
what is muscle soreness? Muscle soreness is basically
damage to the muscle fibers as a result of training.
Without going into great detail on how it happens
and how the recovery process occurs (which is
beyond the scope of this article), muscle soreness
is your body telling you that it's in need of
how can it possibly be GOOD for you to train a
muscle again while it's still sore? Here's where
we get into a contentious area. After reading
this, you may choose to agree with me or disagree
with me (if you've read my articles before, you
know I'm anything BUT conventional) but all I
ask is that you consider my arguments...
if you've never trained a muscle hard two days
in a row or trained it while it was still quite
sore, you're going to be in for a shock at how
unique a stimulus it can actually be. Sure there
are arguments against doing that, e.g. the muscle
hasn't fully recovered and you'll be tearing it
down even more.
consider this...from an adapatation standpoint,
of the following two scenarios, what would give
your body the greater stimulus for growth?
you train the muscle hard once, you'll get a good
growth stimulus. Your body immediately starts
sending nutrients to the damaged area and starts
rebuilding. When the muscle is fully recovered
and is no longer sore, you train the muscle again
and restart the process. This is the standard
way of training and it usually means directly
training a muscle twice a week with at least 2
or 3 days in between sessions for that specific
the next scenario, you train the muscle hard then
the next day, train it hard again. Recovery is
nowhere near complete and the muscle is sore when
you train it on the second day.
the key...if you think about it, would the body
see this second scenario as a greater threat to
its survival? Would the body then ramp up its
recovery processes to try and prepare for the
next challenge, which it (from its recent experience
of being hit with the same hard stimulus two days
in a row) thinks is coming again very soon?
my experience, this absolutely happens. The body's
response to training is a very simple "stimulus-response"
system, but your body is also fully capable of
sending more resources where more resources are
perceived as being needed.
you eat, your body sends more blood to the digestive
system. Your brain doesn't tell it to do that,
it just happens. When you get hot, your body produces
perspiration. The same thing happens with training.
For example, when you train your biceps, your
body sends blood and nutrients to the biceps for
recovery. It doesn't send it to the calves if
the calves haven't been worked.
you train your biceps hard two days in a row,
your body sees this as a big threat to the biceps
and will ramp up recovery processes to specifically
protect the biceps. If the biceps are still sore...
VERY big threat! THEN you allow the biceps to
recover. The two days of training has built much
greater recovery momentum, getting more results
out of your training.
yet another advantage to training a muscle when
it's still sore...even if you don't train it hard,
you will still be sending blood (and therefore
nutrients) to that muscle, helping it to recover
faster than if you didn't train it at all. So
even if you're not up for a hard workout for a
sore muscle, even giving it some light to moderate
work will still help with recovery.
I've talked about training a muscle two days in
a row...what about when you're scheduled to train
it a couple of days later and it's still sore
at that point? The same concepts apply - your
body will STILL perceive that as a greater threat
and increase recovery.
only times I would NOT recommend training when
sore is if the soreness causes you to use poor
form in your exercises or if the soreness is so
bad that it makes the exercises too painful to
instance, if you just did deadlifts for the first
time in your life and the next day, you have a
VERY hard time sitting down without falling down
into the seat, you may want to wait a bit before
doing deadlifts again. Your form will change because
of the pain and it could lead to injury.
if your muscles are a bit stiff or sore, go ahead
and train them. Your body will ramp up your recovery
processes in response.
do I know training the body with this frequency
can be effective? I'll give the best example I
know (WARNING - if you're a proponent of high-intensity,
very infrequent training, this will make you shiver
in your boots!). This is NOT a program I would
recommend lightly to anyone because at this time,
being on vacation from work, I was basically only
eating, sleeping and training...no stress, no
was one of the most extraordinary programs I ever
put myself on, not only in terms of workload but
results as well. It involved doing total body
workouts twice a day, six days a week. This meant
12 total-body workouts per week, increasing the
workload every week.
partial training, negative training, low reps
and high reps. For the entire first week, I was
EXTREMELY sore but I stuck with it and trained
everything twice a day, no matter how sore I was.
3 weeks of this training, I backed off, still
doing 12 training sessions per week but splitting
the body in half - I was still working my whole
body every single day and doing partials and negatives.
the back-off phase, my recovery processes were
practically unstoppable! NOTHING I did could make
me sore (and believe me, I tried!) and my strength
and muscle mass shot way up.
wisdom would believe I would be completely totaled
at the end of a program like this, overtrained,
small and weak. My results? In 6 weeks, I went
from 208 lbs in bodyweight to 228 lbs. And as
an example in strength gain, I went from a 295
bench press for 1 rep to 350 lbs for 1 rep.
is a VERY extreme example of training through
muscle soreness and using maximum workout frequency.
But the take-home lesson from it is this: you
CAN get great results by training even when you're
sore! Your body will react to the stress and ramp
up recovery in response.
quick tip: if you want to decrease post-workout
soreness, try taking 500 mg of Vitamin C about
an hour before your workout. This helps protect
against muscle soreness.