Is it healthy to exercise a muscle when it's still sore?

  • Is it healthy or is it damaging to exercise a muscle while it's still sore from a previous workout?

  • In general, training while sore is perfectly fine and usually beneficial, subject to a few caveats discussed below. Almost every serious athlete frequently trains while still a bit sore from the previous workout.

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    Image from the wikipedia article:

    The first thing to understand is supercompensation: a short while after training, your muscles end up a bit stronger. If you train again during this period, your next supercompensation period will be slightly stronger again. Repeat this cycle with proper timing over and over again and you'll gain strength in the most efficient way possible. Wait too long and the muscle returns back to a "normal" state and strength gains are slowed.

    The second thing to understand is that soreness has nothing to do with the effectiveness of your workout. It's more of a side effect, which is actually not well understood. Depending on your training level and workouts, you may still be sore even when your muscles are in the supercompensation period. If this happens, you just need to put up with it and train sufficiently hard to keep the gains coming.

    BTW, this is also a reason why split routines - where you train each muscle once a week - are very inefficient for the vast majority of beginner & intermediate lifters. Your muscles hit the supercompensation period in far less than a week and have started to return to normal by the time you train again. In this respect, fully body routines 2-3 times per week are going to produce strength gains much faster.

    Some caveats: if you are sore to the point that it interferes with the workout (ie, you can't do the motion correctly), then you won't gain much from exercise and are better off resting. A rule of thumb to determine this is to do a thorough warm-up: if everything loosens up and you feel ok, train on. If you are still stiff and it hurts to move, rest. If you are new to a certain type of exercise, soreness levels will be much higher, so the first few weeks may require skipping more workouts than normal (don't make it a habit though). Finally, more advanced lifters who are moving a lot of weight will take longer to recover, which will impact things like workout frequency and volume.

    So, how can I tell when recovery ends and supercompensation begins?

    @samuelandrew This isn't the sort of thing you'll be able to "feel", this is about the underlying physiology. The general rule is 2-3 days for most muscles.

    @Samuel: there is no exact way to tell for yourself, but various studies and anecdotal evidence suggest ~48 hours is good enough for the average trainee/workout. In other words, unless you are moving HUGE weights/volume, working out the same muscles/motions 2-3 days per week on non-consecutive days tends to be ideal.

    Ok, thanks. What I've been doing is upper body one day, then lower body the next, then upper body, so on and so on. do you think that's okay?

    Hard to say without knowing more about you and the routine. How long have you been lifting? What exercises? How many sets/reps? In general though, upper-lower-rest can be an effective 3 day scheme for most lifters.

    @YevgeniyBrikman Okay, thanks. I reckon I fall into "most Lifters" more or less.

    Yevgenly very good answer. +1000 for mentioning "split routines - where you train each muscle once a week - are very inefficient for the vast majority of beginner & intermediate lifters. "

    When are you out of beginner & intermediate category?

    @Esqarrouth: You shouldn't *want* to be out of beginner and intermediate territory. Beginner routines are designed to give you the fastest gains possible, typically increasing the weight on the bar every single workout. The more advanced routines are slower, more complicated, and not as fun. So in a sense, that's one answer to your question: stick with a beginner routine as long as you possibly can. Only when you can no longer make progress at that rate should you do something more complicated.

    @Esqarrouth: As a second answer to your question, and as a rough guide to where you are progress-wise, check out the weightlifting performance standards:

  • Your muscles need time to recover. Thats why you don't work on your arms every day for example.
    Mon = arms
    Tue = legs
    Wed = back

    However, stretching and light workouts can actually help soreness and stiffness.

    Truth about stretching
    Importance & Dangers Of Stretching

    I would say it isn't a good idea to do heavy training consecutively on the same muscle group.

    sometimes when you're starting out a new exercise like a cardio routine your muscles can get sore because they're not used to being worked. In that case I would say that it would be just fine (with moderation).

    Either way you need to let your muscles recover properly and it's a good idea to change up your routine day-to-day or to have a staggered schedule.

    In any case, overworking can hurt your results.

    -1 for a couple reasons: first, muscles do need time to recover, but a split routine like you listed isn't necessary. In fact, it's quite possible to train the same muscles/movements every day: see the routines of olympic weightlifters for reference. Second, while stretching is definitely useful to increase flexibility/mobility, it is not likely to reduce soreness. If anything, stretching is likely to create more microtears in muscles and *increase* soreness. It's still a great thing to do, but not as a recovery mechanism.

    @Yevgeniy not all olympic weightlifters train every day - some take recovery very seriously and train shockingly infrequently. See trainees of Rogozhnkov, for example. I think the type of training matters - true strength training has enough rest and never to failure that soreness is never an issue. But lighter higher-rep training for mass is a different beast.

    Stretching and light workouts have been shown to have little to no impact on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Stretching decreases your usable muscle strength, and has negligible impact on injury prevention.

    @Greg: of course not all oly-lifters train every day and I'm certainly not advocating anyone does. But some do and do so successfully, so it serves well as a counterexample to the "don't work the same muscle every day" argument. My main point is that muscles adapt very well and will tolerate more than "bro-science" would have you believe.

    @md5sum as far as DOMS, you are correct no stretching is going to solve or prevent DOMS due to the definition of DOMS and I never said that. My statement was stretching can help stiffness and soreness and it does. I dont have a problem with DOMS because I'm careful and follow rules such as 'stagered workouts' and proper recovery times. Article abount DOMS:

  • Should you workout, my answer is an unequivocal yes, while I do not know the frequency of your workouts or the intensity. I workout each muscle type every 48 hours even if the muscles still ache. I have been doing this for many years and had no issues. Most trainers recommend it.

    Working out often is great for building muscle and maintaining a routine is just as important even if you do not feel like you should. Do it.

    In the gym this feeling is called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), and is caused by muscle tearing brought on by your previous workout session. Its also a sign you had a good exerting workout.

    You will not feel DOMS often, once you get used to your workouts or reach a plateau with your routine you will stop feeling the DOMS and its a sign you need to make the routine more challenging.

    I would say for overall benefits you should CHANGE your game, not up it. I would say up your game if you were weight training but it seems like the OP is asking about general exercise.

    While it's true that: "no pain, no gain" there's an optimum for when your body is super-imposed compared to before the workout and that's when you want to be working out that same muscles again. When that is varies between people, so the 48 hours might work for you but it might be something else for someone else

    Ivo thats a good point but 24 rest period is the de-facto norm. If your muscles havent recovered then all your doing at that point is straining them and causing injury

  • Recover no matter what you do. If you are not sure if it has been long enough, start with your warm ups. If you feel better while warming up, go ahead into your workout.

    If you have been eating right and resting, then you should be o.k.

    Is this your personal experience or can you back up your claims?

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Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM