I get a lot of questions about fitness and muscle soreness. Why am I so sore? Should I still work out when I'm sore? When will the soreness be over? Is it bad if I don't get sore after working out? Here are the answers to your most popular muscle soreness questions.
What causes muscle soreness?
When you exercise you put stress on your muscles. In fact, you are causing small injuries, commonly referred to as micro tears to the muscles. When the muscle eventually repairs, it is stronger and larger. So, when you do a challenging workout and the muscles are injured it's normal to feel some level of soreness.
What is delayed onset muscle soreness?
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the kind of muscle soreness described above and it can set it anywhere between 6 to 8 hours after exercise and last up to 48 hours. The reason it's called "delayed" is because you may not feel the soreness immediately after the workout or even that evening - it can take a while for your body to respond to the stress and for you to feel the soreness.
What is acute muscle soreness?
If you feel muscle soreness during a workout session such as a long run or a challenging weight lifting session you could be experiencing acute muscle soreness. While it can feel similar to DOMS, the ultimate cause is different. Acute muscle soreness occurs when the muscles have a build-up of lactic acid because your body has started to break down carbohydrates in the absence of oxygen to the muscles. Proper rest and fueling can help you avoid acute muscle soreness during a workout.
Can I avoid muscle soreness?
If you're starting a new workout routine and want to avoid feeling like you've been hit by a bus you have a few options. First, take it slow. Build up your routine over days or weeks instead of trying to lift heavy and run fast on the first day. Allowing your muscles to respond to low levels of stress before introducing progressively more stress. You will also need to build in stretching and rest days into your routine to allow the muscles to repair and avoid injury. You can also try taking anti-inflammatory medication or try thermal therapy if your doctor allows it.
Should I work out when I'm sore?
Your fitness routine is up to you. If you're experiencing soreness and want to rest, go for it. But if you're feeling sore and want to continue your exercise routine, you can do so safely. The best way to do this is by performing a gentle warm-up with dynamic stretches. During your workout, you may want to avoid using the muscle groups with extreme soreness.
For example, if your arms are killing you from a heavy upper body workout, try taking a walk and performing a few lower body and core exercises while leaving room for a total body stretch at the end. Generally, you will not make your soreness worse by exercising but you could be delaying or interrupting the healing process which is critical for muscle repair and building. It can be good to do some movement even when you are very sore because it encourages the muscles' natural healing processes.
What if I don't get sore from working out?
If you don't get sore after a workout it could be because your body is adapting to the level of stress you've been putting on it. If your fitness is improving, you may not experience the same level of soreness as you did when you were just starting a new fitness routine. In this case, you might consider making your routine more difficult. You could add weight or reps to your strength workout or add miles or minutes or speed to your running plan. By continuing to increase the level of stress your fitness level will continue to improve.
It could also be that you're more prepared for your workouts - you've been hydrating, feeling, and warming up better than you were before. It's important to realize that soreness isn't the only sign of a good workout and you may still be building muscle and endurance even if you aren't still getting that DOMS.
Why do I get sore after taking a break from exercise?
If you regularly exercise and use an appropriate fitness plan, you probably don't experience extreme soreness very often. But if you go on vacation for a week and skip the gym you could be unpleasantly surprised by soreness when you return. Even one week can cause your muscles to "forget" or become deconditioned to some of the exercises you're used to doing. This is not a bad thing (albeit it can be frustrating). It does not mean that you've lost your strength or necessarily that you've lost muscle.
Just like starting a new exercise program, when you come back to the gym after taking some off - be patient. You don't have to start back from zero but you might do an abbreviated version of the workout you were doing before your time off.
So, remember that soreness is not necessarily a good or bad thing. However, if soreness lasts more than 3 days you may have an injury that needs proper care. If you want to prevent soreness, be sure you have a proper fitness schedule (consider a splot schedule to give certain muscle groups time to rest). Warming up, cooling down, proper nutrition and hydration, and incorporating rest days are all a part of preventing and managing soreness. If soreness continues, talk to a doctor or another medical specialist.
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