The truth about muscle soreness

Every gym goer has experienced it sometime or the other – muscle soreness. Yes, the same pain after working out, that has triggered some of the most motivational and catchy fitness quotes like, “Sore Today, Strong Tomorrow”, “No Pain No Gain”, “Nothin’ Sweet Than My Sore”, “Sore Today, Soar Tomorrow”, “I can swear by my sore”, and a dozen more.

I am sure most of you have wondered what causes the soreness? Some may have been doubtful of their form and technique to be the cause of soreness while some would have assumed it is because of over-exertion of certain muscles. Be assured, having muscle fever or commonly known as muscle soreness is normal and in most cases heals itself in few days.

Sore Today Strong Tomorrow: Let’s Science It Up!

Knowing the science and biology behind muscle soreness helps is dealing with it in a better and more prepared manner, and also in planning our training routines accordingly.

Muscle soreness is that lingering sensation of pain and soreness often felt after a day or two of doing an intense or unfamiliar exercise. Since the pain peaks after the lapse of time, anywhere between 24-72 hours, it is known as Delayed-Onset-Muscle-Soreness or DOMS. In most cases, though discomforting, DOMS is usually tolerable. In some extreme cases, the severity of DOMS could be high enough to be mistaken for a muscle strain or injury.

DOMS is the primary reason why most people give up soon after starting or restarting an exercise routine, especially lifting. The soreness gradually fades when one keeps at the routine striking the same muscles with the same or more intensity till they get accustomed to the routine. However, it is easier said than done.

What causes muscle soreness?

Muscles soreness results from microscopic injuries or wear and tear of the muscles themselves, due to unusual strain, causing inflammation.  Any activity or exercise that your muscles are not used to can lead to DOMS, often after a day of rest. Even well-conditioned athletes and lifters can experience DOMS if they train harder, that is, lift heavier or do more repetitions, than usual. But as the muscles get familiar with the level of stress, they tend to adapt quickly and respond less severely – called the repeated bout effect (RBE).

It’s a common myth that DOMS results from the accumulation of lactic acid in your muscles causing intense pain. Though it is somewhat true that lactic acid does get accumulated, but the truth is that your body is able to eliminate it from your blood in a few minutes after working out.

What is the point beyond which you are likely to get DOMS? Ever wondered?

Well, it varies from person to person and the onset of DOMS could depend on a number of individual factors such as genetics, physical or metabolic stress and hydration among others.

Can we prevent DOMS?

The fitness industry is rife with suggestions and prescription (usually given by untrained and uncertified consultants and trainers) to prevent DOMS. Some popular, though not totally effective, treatments for DOMS or prevention of it include, massage, doing a round of warmup and stretching, consuming more salt, increasing hydration, wearing compression garments, taking painkillers and Vitamin D supplement, among others.

Though you cannot do much to prevent DOMS, you can definitely do certain things to make it less severe and less lasting.

  1. Take your protein shake soon after an intense workout session
  2. Stay hydrated throughout the day, and during your workout
  3. Trust your caffeine
  4. Light foam rolling and massage
  5. Post-workout stretching
  6. Train, Don’t stop

I have been leading a healthy lifestyle and lifting heavy for over 3 years now, and I still suffer from soreness and pain, especially when I increase my reps, sets or volume. DOMS has become a happy part of my life.

Well, the truth be told, nothing really decisively helps from DOMS happening to someone, and the best way to prevent it is, well, just get it over with. In other words, only DOMS prevents DOMS!

Continuing training is the best and only way to beat DOMS. However, there is a possibility of confusing DOMS with injury and it is very important to be able to know the difference at the earliest to ensure appropriate and early treatment. DOMS usually sets in after 24-72 hours of working on a particular muscle. It is not a chilling or crippling pain, but a soreness that’s tolerable though uncomfortable. On the other hand, in case of an injury, like a ligament tear or fracture, there is an immediate and excruciating pain.

So, the next time you feel the soreness a day after the workout, don’t be surprised or blame your trainer. It is just a stopover before becoming stronger!

Instead of giving up, take pride in being “Sore Today, Strong Tomorrow”!

One comment

  1. A critical learning from the article for the newbies is to gradually notch up your routine, never rush to next the level. Master the current level, keeping temptations at bay. Maintain a log of your workouts meticulously and note down all increases in weights or reps, and each change as changing a grip, stance etc. Yes, one can enjoy a carefully calibrated’ DOMS. Wonderful article!


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