Question about muscle recovery

Where rest HR and HRV seem to be proper guidlines for cardiovasculair recovery, how about muscle recovery?

As a speed skater I often find my rest HR and HRV ‘at rest’, while my legs still feel sore. The soreness translates itself into lower power output in both the aerobic and anearobic area.
It makes me wonder:

  • what is a good measure to determine the recovery state of the muscles?
  • when the legs feel sore, should I give them more rest for optimal supercompensation?

Any Coach input? @ryan @steveneal @trevor @chris

@kjeldbontenbal, thanks for tagging us. I read this one and didn’t immediately have a great answer, so needed to let it simmer for a bit.

I find similar things to what you’re suggesting with measurements of HR and HRV on a daily basis. The HRV might be elevated, resting HR on the low end, but then feeling residual muscular soreness persists. It seems to reflect as definitely lower power in the high aerobic and anaerobic areas, yet similar power at sub-threshold intensities, just a higher RPE.

So what I’ve learned from monitoring those areas is that, to your questions, I’m not sure of a great recovery measurement to determine muscle readiness, but when there is soreness and I’m not particularly focused on top end work, then I’ll keep doing my normal aerobic training. Unless I see impacts in HRV or resting HR, which would make me consider broader levels of fatigue.

Overall I try to look at that soreness when it comes, consider the larger goal/picture, and then decide if this will impact things negatively or not.

It is an interesting question. I was recently discussing this with Ryan around my training block and we both compared notes on using a similar unscientific “stairs method” of gauging muscle recovery.
Its pretty simple … hoof it up a flight or two of stairs that you are familiar with or use often and gauge how the legs and lungs feel. I have stairs at home and a couple flights where I work that are good and I try and be consistent in the speed or effort. Then I use what I call the “leg loudness scale” … it basically ranges from nothing, to churping, barking, yelling, screaming or failure. And also note how my breathing is.
If it is two days after a big ride (or training block) and I’m due for a key workout I will likely change it to lower intensity or push it off for another day if legs are screaming or higher and I’m breathing heavier than normal.
It sort of reminds me of RPE … except its soreness. Maybe RPS - Rate of Perceived Soreness.
I’m sure the coaches have a more scientific answer but that’s what I use.

Thanks @ryan and @twilcox.
I use that “stairs method” too, but i still wonder:

  • if the outcome is barking or worse, is a zone 1 recovery cycling session still benefitial? Or can we conclude it’s not just the type 2 fibers that are hurting?

This might be of interest. It’s the Borg scale for leg fatigue during strenuous exercise. Many are familiar with his RPE scale but not this one. I first saw it in 2018 when taking part in a lung function study which also included a maximal ramped exercise test. They were interested in understanding where I was on both RPE and leg fatigue during the test up to failure.

thanks @phil !

This scale seems to be for very serious muscle fatigue. I never experienced that iIwant to stop walking :slight_smile:

But I think I can experimentally translate this into values that tell me what I can and cannot do.
0 = no soreness / no lactate-kind-a-burn when walking multiple flights of stairs → go hard
3 = slight soreness, no lactate-kind-a-burn when walking a flight of stairs → go interval
5 = lactate-kind-a-burn after 2 flights of stairs → z2 endurance permitted
7 = warm legs on wake-up, lactate-kind-a-burn after 1 flights of stairs → z1 recovery cycling
10 = warm legs, feeling angry at the stairs for existing → back to sleep

1 Like

Hi @kjeldbontenbal,

Good question! Like Ryan I don’t have an immediate good answer. Would be very interesting to dig deeper into the research and the nature of the question. That said, I know that if I don’t reply now, I may not get to it.

The first important question to answer is what’s causing the soreness. Generally, if your muscles are sore that’s due to eccentric damage, but that’s not always the case. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the term generally used to refer to that soreness.

But to make it even more complicated there are some contemporary theories saying that DOMS isn’t actually damage but inflammation. So there’s another term called Exercise Induced Muscle Damage (EIMD). So depending on what you believe, DOMS and EIMD are the same thing or slightly different.

If I haven’t already made it too complicated, there’s evidence that that soreness has both peripheral and central components and they don’t recover at the same rate. It’s pretty complicated and I don’t want to summarize it here. If you want to read a good study on the topic, check out:

The study points out that you can’t really trust feel or even markers such as resting heart rate, HRV or even a blood test to determine readiness. Don’t blame you if you’re ready to throw your hands in the air at this point.

Fortunately, all of these studies show a couple common themes - eccentric activity seems to be key to both DOMS and EIMD and the damage/inflammation is mostly in fast twitch muscle fibers.

Whether it’s damage or central factors limiting force production, what all of these studies show is that while you’re still in recovery, top end force production or neuromuscular power is going to be limited. So, the best way to test your readiness is to do a few efforts (short sprints.) If the pep isn’t there, or you can’t get the cadence up, you’re probably not ready.

Somewhat similar effect walking up the stairs.

The positive here… again, most of the damage/inflammation is in fast twitch fibers. So, while they are in recovery, it’s still fine to do slow easy work (which hits mostly slow twitch fibers.)

Hope that helps!


Great post @trevor. I like the insights as much as i like the humor and self-reflection :slight_smile:

Cause of soreness: great point. In theory there is no eccentric movement in skating. It could be bad technique due to fatigue (i am perfect when rested…) or just ‘too much’.
When skating on the ice track there is always noticeable leg fatigue towards the end of the session. Outside of the track there is more general fatigue. I blame the corners.

Fiber type: you confirm my worst fear: when sore I need to switch to cycling, as the static pressure of the skating position probably activates the type 2’s regardless the heart rate / speed.

Just to add another question. How much do you consider blood flow occlusion on the level of soreness you’re experiencing? There seems to be a link between blood flow restriction and DOMS/EIMD, and some of the same markers are in Trevor’s article. Skating is unique in that you would probably experience a good bit of that occlusion when cornering versus another sport like cycling or running.

@ryan Nice one! I didn’t consider that yet.
A quick search found me:


Both studies indicate that Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) leads to more DOMS than non-BFR training.
As soon as my smart trainer arrives i’ll try one of my high-intensity sessions and test for DOMS 2 days after to determine the difference with speed skating.

1 Like

In a webinar hosted by Carmen Eelman I learned that connective tissue has a recovery time between 1.9 to 9 days. The webinar focussed on runners, but my key takeaway was:

  • if soreness focusses around connective tissue: be very gentle until it is completely gone.

@kjeldbontenbal sorry totally missed this one.

You have a lot of great answers here already.

I think what you are noticing is totally normal with the hr/hrv recovering and not the legs. This is another reason why a green day on a whoop isn’t always a day to go.

Other than warming up to see how the legs feel and if they come around, then adjust training planning from there.

I have been using the following for years, even when the legs aren’t sore.

My friend who was top ten in 50k skate ski race in world championships would always do an orthostatic heart rate test along with 3 vertical height jump tests. They often used the vertical height jump test to adjust training days.

I have had great success using the following device. (I also use it for downhill mountain bike to look at the smoothness of an athlete)

It is an excellent device and very accurate.

1 Like