We get a lot of questions here in FBG Land about muscle soreness: how to prevent it, what to do if you have it and if working out sore is okay. So when we got the opportunity to ask Robert Forster, physical therapist, author, member of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, and trainer to 40 Olympic medalists and professional athletes from Allyson Felix to Flo Jo to Pete Sampras, we knew we had to hit him up for all the As to our muscle-soreness Qs. And so we did!
Interview with Robert Forster, Physical Therapist and Muscle-Soreness Guru
- FBG: How do you help Olympic athletes recover from events? What’s your general protocol (or does it change according to activity and level of soreness)?
- RF: Out of necessity, in the mid-1980s I created a program of “total support event coverage” for Jackie Joyner Kersee in her quest for gold in the Olympic heptathlon, which consists of seven events contested over two days. The program is anchored in science and based on the workings of human physiology. Now after every workout and competitive event all our athletes first consume nutrients and liquids to restore vital fuel for recovery. The athlete then performs a thorough cool down with jogging and walking to allow the body to flush out byproducts of muscle metabolism. This is followed by a static stretching routine designed to return the muscles to their normal resting length and “wring out” waste out of the muscle tissues and vascular system. Next is the recovery effort. I perform specific massage techniques designed to relax the muscles and further flush out the system. Finally ice therapy is applied to reduce inflammation and the micro swelling in the tissues that causes spasm and soreness so they are ready for their next event.
- FBG: Is there such a thing as being too sore?
- RF: Yes, excessive workloads can create irreversible muscle and tendon damage and a serious medical called rhabdomyolysis. This condition is common when athletes work beyond their current fitness capacity and cause an acute breakdown of muscle tissue that taxes the kidneys to the extent that the athlete can suffer permanent organ damage or death.
- FBG: How much soreness is okay?
- RF: Athletes should only stress the muscular system with arduous work loads when the soreness from the previous training session has abated. Hard training sessions should be separated by 48 to 72 hours. All above recovery techniques should be employed.
- FBG: What can the everyday woman do to recover after a hard workout?
- RF: Focus on recovery begins at the start of every workout. Pre-workout stretching and a thorough warm-up serves to limit the amount of tissue damage that is created during the workout and therefore the degree of recovery needed afterwards. After hard workouts, a cool down followed by stretching, self massage (or work on the foam roller) and icing, all serve to limit the delayed muscle soreness. The day following hard efforts should include low-intensity “active recovery” workouts. Much like the body’s “self cleaning oven,” these low-intensity workouts increase blood flow and further eliminate waste products in the tissue repair products and therefore enable the athlete to be ready for the next hard effort. Remember, no one gets fitter during workouts; it’s only with time for recovery that the benefits of hard work is realized with increased fitness.
- FBG: What should people do when they wake up so sore they can barely move? What helps and what doesn’t?
- RF: A hot shower or short five-minute Jacuzzi followed by all of the above—i.e. stretch, light exercise, stretch again and apply ice or ice bath. Massage and foam roller work is a very effective adjunct for recovery. Longer time in the Jacuzzi after strenuous workouts is counterproductive. Heat increases inflammation and swelling, so ice must follow all heat modalities (i.e. hot shower or Jacuzzi) to counter those effects.
- FBG: We’ve heard that you’re a big believer in the static stretches before and after, despite what research may show. Why? And how do you think it helps?
- RF: The research on active warm-up has been misquoted and misused. The studies supporting active or dynamic warm up are related to performance, not in maintaining range of motion, healthy joints, good posture and correct bio-mechanics for sport and life. The studies supporting dynamic warm-up over static stretching are poorly designed in my opinion and showed that power and strength output were reduced immediately following static stretching. However, my athletes have performed static-stretching exercises immediately before stepping on the track and set world records and won gold medals. Well-informed performance experts never meant for static stretching to be eliminated but instead augmented with dynamic movements as part of the warm-up for performance athletes. For all of us, static stretching is critical to maintain full range of motion of the joints and allows for proper alignment of the bones at each joint. This will preserve correct bio-mechanical function for life, maintain good posture and protect joints from early wear and tear. Static stretching is absolutely necessary to counteract the relentless shortening of the connective tissue elements of the body, (i.e. ligaments, fascia, tendons), which naturally shorten every day if not stretched. Pre-workout static-stretching serves to assure we can attain the correct mechanics for our sport movements and helps prevent injury. Post-workout static-stretching promotes recovery by returning muscles to their normal resting length and holding the muscle taut acts to “wring” waste products out of the muscle and associated vascular structures.
- FBG: What’s the No. 1 misconception people have about muscle soreness?
- RF: People think they have to be sore after workouts to gain fitness. We can and do create programs that are progressive in nature and promote recovery so well that there is very little soreness as they progress to full fitness, injury free.
Wow! So much good stuff there! A big thank you to Robert for the interview. Want more amazing info? Check out Mr. Forster’s Phase IV Scientific Health and Performance Center site. It’s brimming with good fit stuff!
Now, what did you learn new about muscle soreness there? Who’s ready to do some stretching and hit the foam roller? —Jenn