This is something that we all deal with or have at least dealt with at some point in our past. So what is it and what does it mean!?
We have all heard the adage, “no pain no gain”, or “know pain know gain”…but this isn’t talking about muscle soreness. This is referring to the pain you experience during physical exertion during exercise. Let’s face it…if you are pushing yourself to your limit then it’s going to suck! We just choose to embrace the suck and use that pain as fuel to sculpt our bodies and improve performance. Muscle soreness actually doesn’t have anything to do with muscle growth. You don’t have to be sore from your workout to have had a productive workout!
You’ve likely heard that it’s “lactic acid” that causes muscle soreness and that you need to get rid of it to help the body recover. This is actually false. This is something that was believed to be true for many years until we learned that lactic acid is actually used for energy when the demand for energy is greater than our usual methods of producing it. It turns out…lactic acid has nothing to do with soreness and that most lactic acid is cleared from the muscle around the training time. It certainly still isn’t present the following days when muscle soreness sets in.
DOMS is another term for muscle soreness and stands for “delayed onset muscle soreness”. It is called this because the muscle soreness is often delayed. Very few people are actually sore immediately post workout. If you are, then you likely injured yourself. The majority of people that exercise experience soreness the following day or even 2 days after training that muscle!
The pain associated with weight training is related to damage done to the cells of the muscle during the workout. Now, we understand that weight training stresses and can damage the muscle in order for it to repair itself and grow larger/stronger to meet the new demand. Pushing yourself to your body’s limit will definitely encourage some adaptation…and if proper nutrition and rest are present then we will see those physical changes!
Some of you may have noticed that the longer you train, the less likely you are to get sore. One theory is that the body is able to increase its pain threshold from repeated training. This is the body’s way of adapting to a new stressor called exercise. After you have been exercising long enough the muscles develop a new threshold for pain. In other words, they get used to the pain. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t having a successful workout. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t training hard enough. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t stimulating the muscle to grow. All that it means is that the muscles and your brain have gotten used to it. The take home point of this article is this: you do not have to be sore after the workout to have had a successful workout! Below I will go over a few techniques that you can try to alleviate post workout muscle soreness and DOMS.
TIPS TO REDUCE MUSCLE SORENESS
- HEAT: Blood flow is thought to help aid the muscle after sufficient damage has been done to cause pain. One of the best ways to increase blood flow is to apply heat to the area. This can be in the form of a heating pad, bath, or even hitting the sauna.
- VARIOUS LINIMENTS AND CREAMS: Most of the popular pain creams work based on their ability to dull pain at the site. Many of them also help with increasing blood flow. These may not help “heal” the body but they do a great job of helping to mask the pain until you get through it.
- EPSOM SALT BATH: There is not conclusive scientific evidence that proves that Epsom salt baths work on any level other than being a hot bath. There have been some theories and studies that relate the main ingredient of Epsom salt, “magnesium”, to aiding in muscle relaxation. If a muscle is inflamed and experiencing pain then a calming or relaxing effect can help aid in minimizing pain.
- MASSAGE: Massage can help increase blood flow. If blood flow is thought to help alleviate pain then a massage can definitely help!
- STRETCHING AND ACTIVITY: I’ve read that stretching will do minimal with regards to eliminating DOMS and increasing recovery but I do know that stretching can improve blood flow. If blood flow can help then stretching can help too! You might also lightly train the muscle with weights to increase blood flow as well.
I hope that this article has helped to clear up some common misconceptions about muscle soreness meaning that you had a good workout. That being said, if you are training hard enough to be sore…don’t worry and keep working hard! Embrace the pain and know that it will soon become tolerable and you will be happier with the newer and better version of you!!