Let’s talk about being sore. Almost anyone who has ever lifted a weight or done anything strenuous can attest to the fact that at one point or another you will experience muscle soreness. They will also tell you that this is definitely a different kind of sore. An ache in your shoulder or knee is one thing – not being able to lower yourself onto a chair or comb your hair due to a past workout is something completely different – and if it were permanent no one would ever exercise again! But what is it, why does it happen, and can we prevent it?
At this point we will introduce a term known as DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. This is the phenomenon of becoming increasingly sore for 24-48 hours following a strenuous workout, especially those involving resistance training. The best explanation for this occurrence is due to small micro-tears in the muscle tissues due to the exertion placed on the muscles. As the body begins to repair inflammation typically occurs at the site of the “injury.” This would explain why the muscle is sore, both to the touch and when trying to move. If you think about when you get a nasty bruise or roll your ankle and the subsequent swelling and pain in the days following its understandable that if your are technically injuring your muscle you would have soreness. It also explains why the days following are worse than the day you complete the workout, as the body has not begun to repair yet.
The reason for this occurrence is that in order for your muscles to become strengthened, it is required that they first be taxed, or as we’ve mentioned, torn down so that the body can then rebuild the muscle stronger than before. If this doesn’t happen you will not see progress in the activities you are pursuing. Also as important, is that it should be noted that during this time it is vital to give your body the nutrients it needs to repair itself. Without doing so, you may not see the results you are hoping for, and are just dealing with the soreness-and that’s not right!
The good news is that this doesn’t necessarily last forever. Typically speaking, the worst occurrences of DOMS are related to new types of exertions. For example, if you haven’t been exercising regularly for some time it can be expected your level of DOMS will most likely be significant. However, if you were to follow the same workout plan for several weeks, it wouldn’t be uncommon to experience less and less soreness each time. As your body adapts to what you are accomplishing it will be able to rebound faster and suffer less tears. However, this does not mean that you are not still progressing or gaining benefits from working out. In that same instance if you were to switch to a new program or try a new workout, you may very well experience those same levels of DOMS as you did at the beginning of the previous workout plan.
While there is no accepted cure for DOMS, there are a few things you can try to help alleviate any soreness you are experiencing. Anti-inflammatories may help alleviate some of the swelling, which can reduce the pain. Stretching, which we can all agree we don’t do enough of, can help as well. But, one of the biggest factors may in fact be a proper cool down when we exercise. Coming down from a long run, or intense workout, and then essentially going to a dead stop can increase your likelihood of being sore. A simple cool down of some walking or light cardio can help lessen the pain and help with avoiding injury too. That’s a win win in our book!
So remember, soreness is normal. As your workouts change, and as you get stronger, you may be one of the many who will see this a good number of times, but its not a bad thing! If you are just starting to work out, just take solace in the fact that this won’t last forever. And if you are one of those select few who don’t experience much soreness at all, then from the rest of us, and with the utmost sarcasm-lucky you!