Dr. Bell, I’m trying to determine if I over did it on my chest workout. It’s been more than 48 hours and my pecs still feel super sore. Is it normal to be sore for this long? Or did I go too hard? Would you recommend going easier on my next chest workout, or push through it?
You “Probably went too hard!” There is a caveat to the answer to your question, since the closer you get to your ultimate genetic potential, the harder you must work and the more likely you are to experience some pain.
Pain always results from damaged tissue. A certain amount of muscle damage is expected for hard training athletes. The level of pain that is considered “acceptable” is a feeling of “tightness” in the muscles you worked the previous day or two. The feeling of tightness becomes pain when you forcefully knead or massage the affected area. Competitive Bodybuilders and Powerlifters have specific Program Designs to train targeted muscle groups with high intensity and/or high volume such as “Bodyblasting” where the body builder does 20 or more sets in one workout, for one targeted muscle, i.e.: “Chest Day” where all a bodybuilder will do is Chest exercises for the entire workout. The Bodyblasting Program requires training 7 days/week, with a different body part selected for each day. The Body Builder trains each body part with high intensity and volume so that it requires 7 full days for the Body Part to recover. Bodybuilders expect to feel some level of pain in the body part trained.
Another extremely high intensity training program is “Eccentric” or “Negative” training. In the Program Design, you put 120-130% of your 1RM on the bar. Obviously, you will not be able to do a single concentric contraction with 20-30% above your Max on the bar. You will need a spotter (or 2 or 3 depending) to assist you with the concentric contraction, and spot you as you perform slow (4 seconds or more) eccentric training. This type of training will cause ruptures in the muscle’s cellular wall. The damage is severe and another training day for the target muscles should not be performed until the cells repair themselves, signified by the cessation of pain.
Eccentric training creates extreme muscle damage and should only be used by Advanced Athletes and only for a limited time to avoid overtraining. This is a popular training program for many athletes, though it may not be necessary. While an athlete may see some rapid strength increases, long term you may see better gains with much lower risk with the DeLorme Protocol (3 sets of 10RM), Berger Protocol (3 sets of either 6RM or 8RM) or use a typical Bompa Protocol of Periodization that varies intensity every 3-4 weeks by increasing, i.e. 3 weeks at each of: 15RM, 12RM, 8RM, 5RM, Active Rest.
If you are not an advanced Bodybuilder and you feel “Super Sore,” 48 hours, post workout, you went too hard. It will do you no good to attempt another workout until you have achieved full recovery, signified by the absence of pain AND Adaptation which should be complete approximately 24-48 hours after your chest stops hurting.
Studies show a performance reduction of over 20% when the targeted muscle is feeling pain. Attempting to train with an overtrained muscle group, not only prevents any increase in muscle size or strength, but it can actually decrease performance in size, strength and power output.
Therefore, my advice is to self-check your chest and determine when the pain stops, then wait an additional 2 days before you train. When you train, reduce your intensity and volume to 20% LESS than your last workout which DID NOT create DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). Then use the GPO Principle (Gradual Progressive Overload) to increase only one of the Frequency, Intensity, Time or Type by 5% or less between workouts. Consistency is the best route to long term gains!