Have you ever done a workout that left you unable to comfortably sit on the toilet the next day?

Or a workout that makes you wish you had one of those stair chairs in your house so you can go from upstairs to downstairs without feeling like your legs might give out from under you?

Ever have trouble washing your hair in the morning because you can’t lift your arms above shoulder level?

If you can answer “yes” to any or all of these then it was probably, a damn good workout! At least that’s how your trainer sees it. But let’s be honest, we all like to feel like our workout did something but none of us want to feel incapacitated by it.

What causes DOMS (delayed onset muscular soreness)?

When our muscles contract forcefully or are subjected to repeated stress it causes microtears in the muscle fibers. This microtrauma is then followed by the one thing that will one day lead to all our deaths (barring some freak accident)...INFLAMMATION.

The combination of microtrauma and inflammation along with changes in intramuscular fluid and electrolyte levels is what causes DOMS.

You can still workout even if you’re still experiencing soreness—at times the blood circulating to the muscles helps eliminate excess waste in the muscles and the endorphin release curbs the feeling of pain. However a word of caution: relief from working-out sore muscles is temporary; soreness will typically resume soon after the workout is over.

More importantly than “can you workout while sore” is, SHOULD you?

The answer depends on 1) how soon after the last workout are you working out again, and 2) are you training the same or different muscles.

It’s generally accepted that you should wait 24-72 hours before training the same muscle group again. I highlight “the same muscle group” because research indicates that a muscles’ force output is diminished up to 24 hours after a workout. Muscles not trained do not seem to be effected by the previous day’s workout.

This would suggest that...

So long as you’re not training the same muscle on consecutive days—training on consecutive days while sore is not self-defeating.

However, we also need to consider the volume and intensity of work performed for a particular muscle group, the overall demands of the workout and systemic stress, as well as the “newness” of the exercises or routine. Regarding the latter, DOMS tends to be most prevalent when instituting a new exercise or training method—or one that has not been performed for several weeks—as well as using new/different exercise equipment. The degree of DOMS, however, lessens with each subsequent performance of the new exercise or training method.

While it is easy to get caught up in the minutia of scheduling your training for optimal impact; of greater importance is the OVERALL time and attention given to recovery in the course of a week, month, and year.

What can you do to expedite recovery and reduce muscle soreness? Find out tomorrow in Part 2.