By David Smith
Nothing like a good, strong, challenging workout to really get the blood pumping and the body moving, right? But why the hell am I so sore the day after?
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the body’s response to increased stress and pressure put on your muscle. It’s that feeling of being stiff, of feeling like an old man, of being barely able to sit on the toilet without falling off (yeah, I went there).
A long held belief regarding DOMS is that the production of lactic acid within the muscle is what causes soreness. So the more lactic acid you have the more sore you are, right? Wrong. Lactic acid if often associated with muscle soreness because it’s responsible for the muscular fatigue or “the burn” you feel during exercise. The burn is the result of the production of lactic acid overcoming the body’s ability to flush it out and making the use of oxygen within the muscle impossible. This explains why that extra push-up may or may not happen. However, lactic acid is flushed entirely out of the body within 30-45 minutes following your workout.
Muscle soreness is the result of a traumatic process of your muscle essentially being ripped to shreds within your body as a result of your exercise. The muscle fibers themselves remain intact but the connective tissue that holds all the fibers together gets all ripped apart and the soreness is essentially the pain of this. If you get a cut on the skin, part of the skin gets torn up and you’ll feel the pain of the cut as the body works to repair itself, in the days following the cut the pain subsides right? The same thing happening with your muscles when they get sore.
It hurts, yes, but muscle soreness isn’t always a bad thing. It definitely is more painful in the beginning and doing things like washing your hair, sitting down on a toilet and such are more difficult. But during the repair process, your muscle will regenerate the connective tissue to be stronger and better prepared to handle the increased load you are placing on it. Constantly engaging and loading the muscle in this fashion is what increases strength, endurance, power, mass and overall fitness. You’ll find the more you complete the exercise at the same intensity the less sore you’ll feel, that’s when it’s time to take it to the next level!
· Drink a lot of water before, during and after the workout. Hydration is key to encouraging blood flow and to help ensure oxygen is delivered to the muscle while flushing that lactic acid out. This will also help alleviate the muscle cramps and spasms you’ll often feel during exercise
· Keep moving! Especially the day you feel the most sore, it’s a great idea to keep moving and have some kind of active recovery, whether that is going for a walk, doing a light workout. This helps alleviate tension in the muscle, loosens them up and again helps encourage blood flow.
· Eat protein! Immediately following your workout, within 1-2 hours it is key to consume a good source of protein. It could be from lean meat, vegetarian sources such as nuts, beans, soy, or even supplements (whey protein) if necessary. Protein is key for muscle growth and overall muscle health, consuming protein after the workout encourages regeneration and can make the recovery process much more efficient.
· Don’t push so hard! Many people new to exercising fail because they push themselves too hard. They are extra motivated and gung-ho but the next day really sucks. Make sure that when you start a new routine you start light and work your way up, this way you’ll reduce your risk of injury as well.
· Sleep! Getting a full night’s sleep is key, that is when your body will be doing a lot of the repair and regeneration of your muscle tissue, if you are short cutting your sleep you are only delaying the process. A full night’s sleep allows the body to regenerate and re-energize so you are ready to go the next day.
There are definitely other methods that can reduce soreness, like proper cool down and stretching techniques. Many things work for different people but sticking to the basics as I've outlined them is a good start and a great way to make it just a bit easier to keep up your workouts despite muscle soreness (and stick your landing on the toilet every morning)!
David Smith is
the owner of Stonewall Fitness, holds a degree in exercise
science from Metropolitan State University of Denver and holds several
fitness certifications including ACSM Personal Trainer and Group
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