Muscle soreness and successful recovery - key components in your training


The previous squat workout was a real killer. Your quads and glutes still scream in agony after two days. You don’t really feel like training, nor should you do so. But after 3-4 days, the soreness starts to disappear. You only feel slight discomfort in your legs. Is the recovery process set and done? Are you ready to hit the squat rack again? Moreover, how can you use soreness to determine the optimal training frequency?

Helena Kinnunen stretching

Helena Kinnunen stretching


Sore muscles

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is caused by a myriad of factors. Simply put, exercise-caused muscle damage leads to an inflammation process that irritates the nerve endings, which causes a sensation of dull pain in the muscle. DOMS is also associated with the swelling of the muscle – do a super hard, new arm program and expect to gain 1–2 cm to your arms almost overnight. Unfortunately, most of these gains are due to inflammation-caused water retention, but you get the idea. Also, serious DOMS decreases your range of movement and causes acute strength loss up to 30%. Due to pain, swelling, decreased range of movement & strength loss, your ability to control your body and activate your muscle are decreased. You become more injury-prone and the intensity of your workout decreases a lot.

Markus Mäntynen pursuing muscle soreness

Markus Mäntynen pursuing muscle soreness

Put all this together and it’s clear that hard training is not a wise thing to do during the acute phases of DOMS. Soreness usually lasts for 3–7 days. Typical, rather frequent and intense gym training usually leads up to 3-4 days of soreness. In most cases, the total recovery process can be a little longer.


What can you do to alleviate DOMS?

You can’t really prevent DOMS by stretching after a training session or with help of various massage techniques etc. You may ask, what is the all fuzz around DOMS about? Well, you have to cause some muscle damage and overload in order to achieve progress. So the damage is done. If you could somehow completely remove DOMS, you would lose one useful self-monitoring tool for your recovery.

When DOMS starts to go away, it means that the muscle is mostly repaired and acute inflammation is decreasing rapidly. With RecoApp, you can self-monitor the recovery process in various muscle groups. This is a great, cost-effective way do to so. Research shows that subjective ratings of recovery correlate nicely with various biomechanical and physiological indicators of recovery, such as blood lactate concentration during exercise. With RecoApp, you can give a subjective recovery rating, instead of doing highly time-consuming and expensive laboratory measurements, such as creatine kinase analysis, EMG and reflex measurements and so on that are used in research laboratories to estimate recovery.

Finding out your individual recovery times is extremely beneficial, because muscle groups require different recovery times. If you don’t monitor this and only go by strict schedule, you may end up overtraining some body part while undertraining others. There’s no sense to wait 7 days before you hit your chest again, if DOMS is gone after 3 days. You only end up slowing down your progress.


Estimating your own muscle group spesific recovery times with RecoApp

When your muscles are sore, stiff, and even swollen, it’s time to quickly fine-tune your muscle group specific recovery slider bar. Now you really shouldn’t train the muscle yet. After DOMS is nearly gone, it’s safe to say that the muscles are rather adequately recovered (not in supercompensation yet, see below). In this case, you can fine-tune either way. If you want to push for your individual recovery limit, fine-tune for more frequency. Utilizing this so called overachieving principle occasionally is not harmful. A so-called repeated bout effect exists in muscles. It means that any major further damage is not likely to occur, when sore muscles are trained. However, don’t do this constantly. Otherwise you will likely end up overtraining or injury.

When all the DOMS is gone, it’s very likely that the muscle is still not 100% recovered. You are ready to train it again, for sure, but your performance is probably not yet back to the starting level. After really hard physical strain, DOMS usually goes away before all markers of muscle damage –and sometimes also strength loss – is gone. If DOMS is gone before the estimated recovery time, fine-tune for more frequency. One very good strategy is to have a one-day safe margin – rest one more day after DOMS is gone, if you want to hit into supercompensation.


Only results matter!

So, use DOMS as a recovery indicator, and add some additional data about your stress, sleep and nutrition. Then see what happens. When you realize nice gains, you’re on your way to achieving your goals – only this time you’ll take real short cuts, because you can easily monitor different recovery factors with RecoApp. You’ll also soon discover that you can speed up your recovery, increase your training frequency and get better gains by:

1)      Repeating the same training sessions frequently (no typical missed training days, no long breaks, no instinctive training)

2)      Taking a recovery drink

3)      Resting properly and getting adequate sleep

4)      Utilizing active recovery methods.

All these are shown to reduce DOMS and, by doing so, to enhance recovery. You can track these values with RecoApp. You’ll quickly discover the optimal recovery times for various exercises, training routines, and you can push for more or less frequency or intensity when needed. In sport and exercise science your weekly workout routine is known as microcycle, usually ranging from 2-14 days. The great thing is that you can now track your own weekly routines or microcycles, thanks to RecoApp’s patent pending innovation. What’s extremely handy, you can keep track of your split routines and use RecoApp as dynamic training diary.

RecoApp as dynamic training diary.

RecoApp as dynamic training diary.


When to train throughout muscle soreness?

Last but no least, let’s take a quick look at a hot debate: whether it is actually necessary to constantly train through muscle soreness to force muscle adaptation. Mostly this is a bad idea. Yes, it is often good to try to push the recovery limit and increase frequency, but doing this constantly is a very bad idea. Why? It can lead to chronic muscle inflammation, an excess amount of sytocines and other biochemical substances that disturb CNS homeostasis and cause burnouts and injuries.

Joona Heino, rest between deadlift sets

Joona Heino, rest between deadlift sets

However, here are a couple of exceptions to the general rule:

-          If you are starting a new gym program that has drastic changes in frequency or intensity, or if you are coming off of a long break. In these situations it’s best to train through the DOMS during the first few sessions to get the body accustomed to the new program and the increased training frequency. However, take it a little bit easier during the first few workouts anyway.

-          If you are doing some sort of “shock” (or overachieving) microcycle. Now you try to accumulate a lot of fatigue and then do a longer period or reduced training. In this case you REALLY need to know what you are doing. This is why “shock” or overachieving microcycles are for advanced trainees only. Advanced trainees and athletes very often shoot for greater accumulated fatigue and have more extensive recuperation or peaking microcycles after those. Yet they have to monitor themselves and avoid constant training with sore muscles.


Training when DOMS is gone – Aim for perfect Supercompensation

Usually the safe bet to recreational athletes is to follow the principle of Supercompensation. In layman’s terms, this basically means optimal training frequency of your training bouts: you train only when your muscles are fully recovered. So the idea is you don’t either under or over train your muscles, instead you try to hit into ideal training frequency. The difficult part - this frequency can vary based on your individual parameters like your genes, training experience, sleep, stress and nutrition. The great thing is, that we have developed RecoApp for this purpose. In this article I’m gonna just summary the benefits of Supercompensation. You can check my previous article about supercompensation here.

Supercompensation principle

Supercompensation principle

Supercompensation basically means you train only when fully recovered, and you keep “extra safe day/days” after DOMS is gone. In layman’s terms, its the time when you are able to break your one rep max in bench press! That’s exactly what supercompensation is about.

In order to get maximum results out of your hard workouts, you must understand the importance of recovery (or just rest). When optimal recovery is leading to continuous supercompensation in your training routine, you can gain several benefits:

-          Optimize your natural body hormone levels

(e.g. elevated basal levels of Testosterone)

-          Injury prevention

-          Reduced stress levels (reduced cortisol levels)

= prior are prerequisites for successful weight loss and muscle toning


Data analysis for your smart clothing

Using our patented methodology for the data interpretation in smart clothes automatically gives you recovery times needed. Having DOMS is individually dependent occurence, so it is sometimes difficult to know when your muscles are fully recovered.

With RecoApp you don’t need to guess. RecoApp’s efficient, visually pleasant and quickly readable way of the data interpretation is a user-friendly experience. Smart clothing is a rapidly growing business and manufacturers need more efficient ways to interpret the data. RecoApps patent covers using an image of a human figure in a form of traffic light color coding for receiving and displaying optimal training information regarding muscle recovery times. Therefore it is a significant asset for smart clothing manufacturers to protect their smart clothing portfolio.

RecoApp has demonstrated the function of the patent through MVP mobile application. RecoApp's MVP has over 10 000 users.

Learn to listen to your body - and discover your ideal supercompensation times with the help of RecoApp. The U.S Patent Pending. Global PCT Patent Pending.

 Download RecoApp on the App Store



Cheung et al. 2003. Delayed onset muscle soreness. Treatment strategies and performance factors. Sports Medicine. 33(2):144-163. Nosaka & Newton. 2002. Repeated eccentric exercise bouts do not exacerbate muscle damage and repair. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 16;1:117-122. 


Timo Haikarainen, MSc, Finnish personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach.

Markus Mäntynen, the CEO and founder of RecoApp Oy.


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