Should You Train Through Soreness?!

 

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

 

Whether you have been in the training game for a while, or just recently started training, it is likely that you have experienced (or will soon experience!) Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), or the soreness 24-72 hours post training.

 

 

DOMS is a natural part of training and occurs when your body has been stressed past a point of its current threshold (which is the goal of training). Training that surpasses your current threshold provides a mechanical and metabolic stress that results in a multitude of factors that have been said to cause DOMS. These include lactic acid build-up (this has actually been proven incorrect), damage to the muscle cells themselves (mirco-tears), damage to intracellular organelles and more.

What truly causes DOMS is still up for debate and is not the focus of this article.

Rather, the focus here is whether or not you should train when DOMS rears its little ugly head…and like most questions involving training, the answer is it depends.

To illustrate this, let’s go over a couple different scenarios that involve DOMS, and how to handle them.

 

Scenario 1: “I’m a little sore, but not too bad”

 

If you wake up the next day after a training session and you find yourself a little “stiff” and feel like you just have to “stretch it out” (and you can move around without any range of motion limitations) you are good to get after training once again.

 

 

While I wouldn’t suggest completing the same movement patterns and exercises, especially at the same intensity, I would not keep you from training the same muscle groups (legs, back, chest, shoulders, etc.) again if you are working them in pattern/region specific splits.

For example, if you are working on a full body routine, you could again complete another full body routine using different exercises, but still stress some of the same muscles. If you squatted the first day you could deadlift the next. If you benched the first day, perform a push up the next.

Although you will be utilizing many of the same muscle groups (legs, chest, shoulders, etc. in the above example), you are stressing a different pattern, and the soreness you experienced from day 1 is not significant enough to compromise form or exacerbate the possibility of injury (remember this is the “not too bad” soreness scenario).

I would actually suggest that training the same muscle groups in a different pattern would be beneficial as it would provide a form of active recovery, as well as enhance your proprioceptive abilities.

Promoting blood flow to the region of soreness helps to transport the necessary nutrients that will help with recovery. And if you have any difficulty feeling an exercise in the muscle groups that are supposed to be working, training with a little soreness will help you more easily target that muscle (although we should be training movements and not muscles, we also definitely want certain muscles working over others in most cases).

A little soreness should not keep you from a training session and in fact could help speed recovery as well as allow you to better feel the activation of the targeted muscles. So as long as you are ready to train again (central nervous system is not compromised, nutrition and hydration status is adequate, mental state is on point, etc.) go ahead and get after it.

 

Scenario 2: “I can’t even walk up the stairs”

 

If the day after a training session you find yourself unable to walk up or down stairs, or when you go to sit on the couch it feels like something may actually rip off the bone, you have likely stressed the tissue to a point that you do not want to again stress to any significant level.

 

 

Not only is stressing a tissue that is already compromised more likely to result in an injury, but trying to properly execute a movement that stresses said tissue is near impossible because of pain. And while pain itself is no good, it is not actually the pain I worry about, but rather the faulty movement it promotes. Faulty movement is going to improperly load a joint and the muscles that surround it, which can often times result in an overuse injury.

So if you find yourself cursing with every movement, and the tissue itself is sore to the touch, do not try to perform any form of intense activity that stresses the same tissue. That doesn’t mean you can’t train other unaffected regions/movements, but if you are training on a full body routine that may be difficult.

Instead, active recovery such as a nice walk, light conditioning session or if you can tolerate it, a much lighter resistance training session, is a better way to go. But if you know that no matter how bad you hurt, if you were to step inside the gym it is all or nothing…well, stay out of the gym!

 

To Train or Not to Train?

 

The bottom line is that if you are sore, you can still train, but you must first determine how sore you truly are and go from there.

If you fall under the “Ehh, it’s not so bad” scenario, get after your training. With that said, I’d encourage you not to stress the same movements at the same intensity. Choose different movements from the previous session and make sure the intensity is appropriate, and you will reap the additional benefits of the session (active recovery and enhanced proprioception).

On the other hand, if you find yourself needing an IV of liquid Advil just to get out bed in the morning, you will want to stay away from stressing the same tissue to any significant degree. Active recovery, foam rolling, a lighter conditioning session or a session that stresses different tissues can be completed.

 

 

And if you do decide staying away from the gym is best, don’t fret about not training that day. If you train and you stay sore for days on end, you will not only be limiting the quality of your training, but you will also be limiting your results and risking injury…which will keep you from the training game for a much longer period of time than is required to recover from some DOMS!

I hope this article helped clear up the question of whether or not you should train with soreness!

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