You Shouldn’t Train When You Are Sore

Posted July 4, 2011 in Bodybuilding Myths No Comments »

Should Bodybuilders Train When They Are Sore?

Muscle Soreness

This is one of the top offending bodybuilding myths. Have you ever canceled a workout or skipped training a body part because it felt sore, even though at least 48 hours had passed since you trained it? If you said “Yes”, then after reading this post you will never make that mistake again.

Your muscles will get sore when you use:

  • heavy weights
  • slow negatives
  • forced negatives
  • assisted negatives
  • drop sets
  • high volume

Do you need to avoid these training methods completely in order to prevent soreness, so that you can train again in two days? Not necessarily.

The Myth

You shouldn’t train a sore muscle because you will re-traumatize it before it ever has a chance to recover from the previous workout. If the muscles are still sore, and thus broken down from the previous workout, you wouldn’t want to train them again.

That would would cause over-training, elevated cortisol and catabolism, and will worsen the soreness. Right? Logically it makes sense, but scientifically it’s all wrong.

The Truth

In reality, you can train a muscle again once it’s had about 48 hours to recover. This varies by the individual, but 48 hours is generally a good rule of thumb. Sometimes you might need 72 hours after an unusually brutal workout.

Training a sore muscle will actually help it to recover by filling the tissue with helpful fluids, and by driving glucose into the cells with a proper post-workout drink. Furthermore, increasing frequency of training will cause more growth due to the frequent demands on the muscles. Why do you think construction workers who haul around heavy materials on a daily basis, continue to recover and grow?

It is all part of our physiology to recover and adapt to frequent stress. This is not an invitation to start working out every muscle every day with maximum intensity, which is not what construction workers do – that would indeed put you into a state of overtraining after a month or so.

The Science

Your soreness, called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), usually sets in between 24 and 48 hours after you train a muscle with high intensity. DOMS is a signal that you muscles are involved with the standard process of growth and recovery. Once you feel DOMS, your muscles are already at least partially recovered.

A study in Japan recently found that when a group of subjects used a training session to cause muscle soreness, then trained again two days later while still sore from DOMS, their free testosterone levels were higher during the second workout than they were during the first workout, and their cortisol levels were lower during the second workout than the first workout. Their bodies were literally optimized for a higher anabolic state in the second workout, than in the first workout.

In another Japanese study, researchers forced soreness in the biceps by performing heavy negative rep curls. The exercise was then repeated after 2 days and again after 4 days. There was no difference in ROM, soreness, strength, or the muscle trauma indicator plasma creatine kinase, between exercise sessions. They determined that muscle damage was not made worse by repeatedly training sore muscles.

The Conclusion

Over the years research has shown that your muscles need 48-72 hours to fully recover from an intense workout. It doesn’t matter if your muscles are sore for a week, after that 48 hour period you can train them again. The additional training will stimulate further recovery and more growth.

I have found that increasing your training frequency to train every muscle group every 2 days promotes the greatest strength and muscle gains, versus training each muscle group once per week.

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