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Being Sore After Working Out

We’ve all heard it, “No Pain, No Gain”! When I was younger, it was almost a contest between us guys to see how sore we could get, it was a badge of honor.  It also made a lot of sense too. We heard that if you broke down your muscles, they would ultimately grow back bigger, faster, and stronger. But is this true? Do I have to feel PAIN to get…the GAINS? 

What is this soreness? 

It’s referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, DOMS, and it can start right after your workout, but usually peaks around 2-3 days after. The mechanism of why it happens is not well understood, you hear about lactic acid build up, but that’s a theory. What we do know is that it’s initiated because of tiny tears in the muscle and connective tissue caused by stress when you overload them. 

Does it happen with all types of workouts?

You will get these tears with any type of strenuous use of your muscles, but they will be greater when you’re performing new/unfamiliar movements and/or when your muscles are eccentrically loaded. Eccentric means the muscle is lengthening at the same time it’s contracting. I like to think of it as when you’re “braking” a force; the way down on a bench press or running downhill. Every complete movement has an eccentric component. 

Is being sore a good thing?

Not exactly. Soreness can be an indicator of progress, pushing yourself to new limits. However, it’s not a sole indicator of growth and getting stronger. You can build muscle without always being sore, and actually, it’s not good to be sore all the time because it keeps you from working out and putting more load on in your next workout. 

Can I still build muscle without being sore?

Absolutely, you can build muscle without resulting in soreness because muscle growth can occur with greater mechanical tension (the stress you place on a muscle) and/or metabolic stress (how tired you make the muscle). Muscle damage, which creates soreness, is just one of the 3 ways, not the only way. 

Should I work out if I’m sore?

The quickest way to recovery, is to keep moving. You wouldn’t do the same exercises and you decrease the intensity (significantly), but you’d keep the blood flowing through the muscle. This will bring healing/recovery nutrients to the area and promoting detoxification. 

If I’m sore all the time, what should I do?

Think about rest, nutrition, hydration. In that order. If the same muscle is sore for 4-5 days after your workout, you need to take some time off and decrease the intensity.  You’re doing too much, the tissue can’t handle the amount of stress you’re placing on it all at once. You’ve got to intense, too soon. Nutrition is also key, carbohydrates are your best friend here, they replace the glycogen stores in muscle which allows them to heal and recovery. Up your calories too, you need the energy to fuel healing. Drink more water, water helps to not only hydrate and build the muscle but it’s a detoxifier, “flushing” the muscle of the toxins created from the stress and recovery. 

Anything to be careful of?

Being sore and being in pain are two different things. Your muscles may be sore, but you can still move around. There is no sharp, stinging, significantly weakening experiences with soreness, if you feel that, you might have hurt yourself.  Also, soreness will fade as the days go by. If you feel pain, STOP. 

How do you deal with soreness?

Movement is key. I’ll choose a very low weight, 20lbs on the leg extension (when I usually do 170lbs), and perform 40-50 reps, get the blood really pumping in the sore area. I’ll also make sure I drink a protein shake before bed, 2:1 ratio of Protein:Carbs, feed my muscle during its optimal recovery time. Lastly, I’ll drink water with electrolytes, especially magnesium, to pull hydration into my muscle.