Question: You have discussed training frequency on your site and suggest that training a body part twice a week to every 5th day, what would you say if on that fifth day my legs are still sore and I’m generally fatigued, would you recommend waiting an additional day or so? Or just work through the soreness?
Answer: There are actually two different issues that you’re bringing up here which are the general fatigue and the soreness and I want to address them separately.
First, the easier of the two which is soreness. Simply, this doesn’t matter. Soreness appears to mainly be an issue of connective tissue damage more than anything muscularly (despite still being called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS) and there is no problem training through it. Most find that by the time they finish their warm-ups (see Warming Up for the Weight Room Part 1 and Warming Up for the Weight Room Part 2 for detailed information on this), the majority of the soreness is gone and even more find that as they get used to a higher training frequency soreness becomes much less anyhow. They also usually start growing better.
The general fatigue issue is something else. Mind you, without knowing more about your weekly setup, it’s a little hard to address this totally. Because while it could be related to the previous workout it could also be related to lifestyle factors like sleep (or a lack thereof), nutrition, overall life stress, etc. Making sure that those are in order often fixes any problems.
As well, realize that many people find that they have some of their best workouts when they walk into the gym feeling a bit under. They’ll be yawning and a bit apathetic and then just proceed to blow it out or have banner and PR days. I suspect this is just an issue of not wasting a lot of mental energy ahead of time and relaxing during the workout and letting it happen instead of trying to force it.
But that’s far from universal. My usual recommendation for folks when they get to the gym or training not feeling really up for it is to at least go through their warm-ups. Often by the end of it they feel great and have a good workout. If it’s still not happening, I’d either recommend calling it a day and going home or just going through a short active recovery workout (read Active Versus Passive Recovery for more), keeping volume and intensity dialed way back. Ideally you should leave the gym feeling better than you walked in. If not, you went too hard.
I’d mention that often the problem is related to the previous workout simply being overwhelmingly intense. Many people who start to increase their training frequency don’t dial it back in their workouts and get themselves into trouble. You may find that reducing the workload even slightly (not taking any sets to failure, reducing volume a bit) at the previous workout (i.e. the Monday workout before a Friday workout) prevents the soreness and fatigue issues.
Finally, I’d mention that people who are using considerable poundages (i.e. who are very strong) often can’t pull off the higher training frequencies without adjusting their total work load majorly. A heavy/light system (where only one workout is truly heavy and the second workout for that exercise or muscle group is much lighter) often allows the same higher training frequency while improving recovery. Again, that’s usually for more advanced trainees who are handling very heavy weights and for whom two truly heavy workouts per week are simply too much.