I love being sore after working out….
So many times clients say to me “I like being sore, it means I had a good work-out,” so I want to set the record straight to make sure you are as educated as possible on this subject.
Where does muscle soreness come from?
Muscle soreness has two primary causes. The first soreness you experience happens during your workout. I relate to it as “the burn” to my clients and should cease within a couple of hours. This is caused by lactic acid production. When you are training and your muscles are not getting enough oxygen, lactic acid builds up. You can break down lactic acid by continuing to move and by doing light aerobic exercise (ex: walking) after your workout. This is why the 5-10 minute cool down is important, especially for beginners. The longer you cool down, the faster that lactic acid will leave the muscles (typically within an hour).
The type of muscle soreness you are experiencing, up to a day or two after your workout is known as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). DOMS is caused by microscopic tears inside the muscles, resulting from weight-training or fully exhausting the muscles during cardio. Soreness is normal if you’re new to working out, your body is deconditioned from not working out in a while, if you’ve changed your usual exercise routine or if you’re trying new activities. But, that soreness should lessen over time and if you’re sore after every workout, you may need more recovery days or to reduce the intensity of your workouts to allow your body time to adapt and grow stronger. You also may not be taking in enough protein, proving the nutrients the muscle needs for growth and recovery.
When you are sore, the body is responding to injury…
On day one, your body responds to the injured area by releasing hormones called cytokines. These hormones direct cells to go heal your inflamed muscles. At the same time, prostaglandins, hormones that also affect how cells respond to injury, send blood to the area to heal it. This migration of cells to your tired muscles starts out slowly during the 24 hours after your workout—the healing process hasn’t kicked into high gear yet. However, on dreaded day two, the flood of cells to the area of inflammation, a.k.a. your muscles, reaches it’s peak and continues the healing response. As many of you know this means you’re going to struggle getting out of bed and walking up the stairs!
So how do you know if you’re getting a good workout?
Many clients measure their workouts by how sore they are the next day, but that isn’t the best way to gauge your workout!
- Amount of weight: When strength training, weights should be heavy enough that you can only complete the desired number of reps. You may start to feel fatigued at about 80% through, but you should still be able to maintain proper technique. For example if you are doing 12 reps, at around 10 you will get a little fatigued. If you stop at the end of a set and realize you could have done more, increase your weight so that the last rep is difficult, but not impossible to complete.
- Work out all muscle groups: during the week work out all your muscle groups at least once. You can do this doing a total body routine(1-3 times a week) or a split-body part routine(3-4 days a week).
- Change your program: ensure you change your routine every 4-6 weeks to avoid hitting plateaus(when you stop seeing progress)..a good trainer will always do this!
How will I recover, reduce or remove the soreness?
You absolutely must rest the muscles you worked for 24-48 hours after a workout. Take at least one day off between strength training sessions, and if you are still very sore, take 2 days off. (This means from lifting, not from all exercise such as cardio). If you don’t let your muscles recover and repair, they will continue to break down and you will actually get weaker and injure the muscle.
To help reduce soreness:
- Always warm up for 5-10 minutes and cool down for at least 5 minutes.
- Stretch after a warm-up, during your workout, and after you are done. Only stretch when your muscles are already warm from some kind of light activity.
- Stay active. Believe it or not the more your muscles move, the faster they will recover from exercise and soreness. If you choose to rest completely instead of “actively recovering” with light exercise, you’ll probably be sore longer.
I know many of you will continue to look at soreness as a badge of honor. Look at it more in the sense of I am doing something different that my body isn’t used to which cause injury to muscles t times in a good way. You will not always be sore, it just depends on where you are in your training. If you are, you should ask your trainer if they are training you correctly or if you don’t have one seek out expert advice.