Should I Lift Weights if My Muscles Are Still Sore? & How to Recover Faster

What causes muscle soreness? Should you train if your muscles are still in pain? And what can you do to help them recover faster? Find all the answer in this article!
By Peter Friday, April 13, 2012, 08:05 PM

So, you have been hitting the gym hard and 12 to 18 hours later your muscles start to hurt. It is even worse if you are a beginner and have not been doing weight training for a while. And so 2 or 3 days go by and your muscles are still sore, so what should you do, continue to train them or wait until all the pain has subsided. More importantly, how can you make your muscles recover even faster so that you don’t have to wait 5 days before you train a specific muscle group again and so get faster results?

Well in this article I will reveal all of this but before we start to answer any of those questions let’s look at what is actually happening inside your muscles and why they get sore in the first place.

The Two Step Process of Muscle Building

Weight training involves two very distinct processes. The first is the actual workout, which provides the stimulus for change or muscle growth. The second, which is where the change actually takes place, is the rest and recovery period between workouts. Let’s take a look.

First, without getting too technical, here’s the breakdown. The process of lifting weights and building muscle actually involves micro-tearing of the muscle fibres. This tearing or breakdown and repair process is what is actually occurring when you are engaging in body building. So normally the full breaking down and repairing process will look like this:

Day 1: Weight training

Breaking down muscle fibres.

Day 2: Repairing of muscle fibres through rest and nutrition ( Actually, the repair process begins later on during Day 1 already )

The release of inflammatory chemicals is what causes muscle soreness and it’s all part of the detailed processes your body goes through to “repair” or “come to the aid” of the distressed muscle. During Day 2, be sure to drink plenty of water, eat your 5 small meals, and get a solid 7-8 hours of sleep. Your muscles actually do a lot of repair work during sleep.

Day 3: Here’s where you need to listen to your body’s cues.

If your muscles are still incredibly sore or you’re having trouble moving normally on the third day, you should wait until Day 4 to return to the gym or train that specific muscle group again. Normally training a muscle group once every 3 to 4 days works best and you should have recovered by then but this period can depend on things like if you are beginner, how intense your workouts were and how much rest and nutrients you gave your muscles during the repair period.

But Why Does it Hurt Worse the Second Day?

One of the most common reasons for sore muscles is DOMS, or delayed-onset muscle soreness. This condition typically peaks 24 to 48 hours after you have completed your workout and usually disappears after about 72 hours. There’s a lot more going on in your body than you realize, and because your body is concerned about injury, it releases specific chemicals that cause stiffness and loss of strength. Yes, your body is smarter than you are and it is trying to prevent you from going back and lifting weights the second day.

Don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal to feel like you’ve been hit by a truck the second day after hitting the gym hard or even starting a new gym workout program. It will get easier as time goes on, but if you ever get to the point where your muscles aren’t sore at all after your workout that means it’s time to change your fitness routine or up the intensity. Yes, lack of soreness is a signal from your body as well! Lack of soreness tells you that your workout did nothing for you and it’s time to add more weight or add more reps.

What to Do if Muscle Soreness Persists

If you experience severe muscle soreness or pain that persists for several days following a weight training session, you should not continue lifting weights. This could result in an injury to your muscles or worsening of your current symptoms.

Muscle soreness should be cared for before you begin your fitness routine again. If the symptoms persist and feel completely unnatural visit your physician.

You can also use some of the techniques below to help your muscles recover faster.

Rest – If you notice your muscles are sore after a workout, take it easy. If you rest for a few days, you may find that the discomfort subsides with no special treatment.

Massage – A good sports massage can go a long way to reduce both swelling and soreness. I actually started my career as a sports massage therapist and I used to see many professional sportsmen every single week for a 2 hour massage, especially the day after a big match so I know first-hand how well this works.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medications – Naproxen sodium, ibuprofen, or aspirin may help to reduce some of the soreness you experience. Keep this in mind, though, these over-the-counter medications will not speed up the healing process and should not be take right before your workout routine.

Wait – When you are feeling muscle discomfort, do not continue lifting weights. While you may want to get fit fast, you should let the soreness subside completely before returning to your exercise routine.

Listen to Your Body – While most muscle soreness is caused by DOMS and will not usually last for more than 2 to 5 days, it is important to listen to your body and pay attention to any additional complications. If you experience redness in the area, fever, swelling and soreness at the same time, or soreness that lasts longer than seven days, it is extremely important to consult a physician.

While sore muscles may not have been the fitness results you were hoping for when you started your fitness routine, this is a normal part of the process. Be sure to take things slow when you are first starting out and listen to your body’s cues, you will soon be addicted to this pain and if you pay close attention it is one of the best indicators on whether your current workout program is working for you or not!