Fitness: Should You Train Sore Muscles?

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RNR FitnessTom O’Regan of RnR Fitness in Tralee has some advice on whether you should train with sore muscles…

We explore whether your DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) mean you should skip the gym or grit your teeth and power through the pain

No pain no gain. At least, If you believe the mantra emblazoned across spaghetti strapped vests in gyms from Tralee to Muscle Beach.

But while screaming legs are expected two days after breaking through your deadlift plateau, is waddling back into the gym the best way to shatter your PB, or your spine?

There’s a lot of bravado behind it, but ultimately it comes down to your training goals. If you’re an athlete in season and about to compete, you have to be smart enough to say that when everything aches, you need to rejuvenate your body.

But for most people, it’s more a mental thing, going in and just not retraining the parts that are sore.

If you’re overloading muscles then you’re causing damage at a cellular level. Repairing it hurts, but it’s also what makes you bigger. Pain, gain.

From about 18 to 36 hours, sometimes up to 72 in extreme cases, is your peak DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) period. That’s when your muscles grow, if you let them recover.

Which is where that post-workout whey shake comes in, providing muscle-rebuilding protein for your body to patch itself back together.

But heading straight back to the squat rack batters your body again before it’s fixed itself, putting excess stress on your muscles and halting that growth.

If you keep repetitively damaging them, and training through DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) you risk damaging them long term. Lots of pain, definitely no gains.

That’s not an excuse to only make a weekly trip to the gym, though. The key is variety. You have to cycle body parts.

Legs with shoulders one day, cardio the next day, chest and back after that. Then biceps, triceps and abs. While you’re curling, your burning quads can rebuild for the next day’s lunges.

If your gym time’s too limited to fit in a split routine and you’re opting for full-body workouts, then mixing up movements is equally important.

Trying to replicate what caused the soreness only increases your chance of injury. Throbbing muscles can’t produce the same power, which means support muscles – as well as tendons and ligaments – have to take the strain.

If you’re racking your one rep max onto the bench press before you’re fully recovered, expect to get pinned under the bar.

But it’s not just lifters that need to take care with sore muscles. Running the same route at the same pace every lunchtime forces tired knees and ankles into repeating movements which can strain cartilage and ligaments.

You’re looking at long term injuries like runner’s knee because people just plough through, even when things don’t quite feel right.

As a novice running myself, starting off many years ago, I found this out the hard way pounding the roads day after day eventually resulting in runner’s knee, variety is definitely the key.

Whether you’re race training or just looking to shed some extra timber, mixing your runs up with gym work, or swapping your eight-miler for a sprint session, tests your body in new ways.

If you do a core session you’ll be developing your ability to withstand impacts. Or you can mix up distances to stimulate muscle, which is key to development.

You’ll avoid injury and shave seconds off your race time and don’t forget the rest days for recovery.

• Tom O’Regan is part of RnR Fitness: Qualified and Certified Personal, Trainers, Fitness Instructors and Sports Nutrition Consultants. See their Facebook page here

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