In this article I want to talk about muscle soreness causes, should it be sought or avoided, and what to do to limit or alleviate it.
It is frequently referred to as DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness. This is because the soreness usually doesn’t set in until about 24 hours after the workout. You train hard and wake up the next day sore. Although in certain cases soreness can happen much faster for particularly brutal or voluminous training.
It is generally believed that the soreness is caused due to the trauma the muscles have taken. When you workout against resistance this causes micro tears in the muscle. You must allow for recovery so that these tears can be rebuilt and you come back bigger and/or stronger than before.
The Main Cause of Muscle Soreness
If you do something new, a new type of resistance training, or one you haven’t done in some time, your body is not acclimated to it. Being that people often go too hard too early, and I’m no different, this can result in massive soreness, the next few days in whatever muscles were worked.
Case in point for me is these past two weeks. I went back to a gymnastics class. In tumbling you use lots of muscle all over the body for stabilization and movement. And all the various jumping and leaping takes its toll on the legs. As this was my first day back in about two years and I didn’t really ease in my muscles were sore the next day or three.
Just at the point were I felt recovered from the soreness I end up in a 6 mile run. This works other leg muscles, most notably my calves, shins and feet. Walking normally becomes a chore the next couple days.
So I rest a bit more. Than my second gymnastics class comes around. At this point I can walk straight, but once I start jumping and bounding off the mat I realize my calves were not quite up to the task. The soreness comes back.
A glutton for punishment, I’m not done. (Really it wasn’t by choice instead something I needed to do for reasons I won’t get into here.) Less than two days later I set out on a 16 mile hike. According to this sign it was strenuous. I’m guessing it was talking about the length and not terrain as the trails weren’t bad at all.
In my mind I’m thinking how taxing is walking? Even if it is more than I’ve ever walked in one go and involves numerous up and down hill slopes. Well, let me tell you, four hours and fifty minutes of hiking gets to you when your legs want nothing more than to rest.
(As a side note I think this is an important aspect of why I train the way I do. So that I can jump into any field of endeavor and go at it. No hassles, just do it. Soreness be damned. To venture out on a “strenuous” hike without giving it much thought.)
It’s been two days now. This marks close to two weeks I haven’t been walking straight. I say this all to illustrate especially how new or untrained workouts will lead to muscle soreness, as well as how important recovery is. During this time I have not lifted weights much, which was my usual everyday training before all these extracurricular activities.
More Muscle Soreness Causes
Some people find that certain exercises almost always bring about soreness. For me squats almost always get my legs sore even if I do them regularly. This isn’t necessarily so sore that I can’t walk straight the next few days, but I do feel some soreness.
More volume tends to cause more soreness. While you can work up to just about any level of volume its important that you do just that. Work up to it. And if you want to have less soreness from your workouts than cutting the volume may be an important part of that.
It’s also been noted that the negative portion of any lift, for whatever reason results in more soreness than the positive.
The big questions is…
Is soreness a good or a bad thing?
There are those that seek soreness in their workouts. They look at it as if they aren’t sore the next day the didn’t work hard enough. And the more sore they end up the better the workout was. If you can’t walk straight then yes you are squatting hard enough. Been there, done that. Nowadays, I don’t know about you, but I use progress as my measure of success, not muscle soreness.
Muscle soreness can be a metric you look at but I would not use it as your gauge for how your training is going. Because the truth is you can become sore and not make an ounce of progress. Or you can go for without any soreness.
As a general rule I train in ways that do not get me sore. And if they do its only a little bit that doesn’t affect my daily life or my workout the next day. (After all how functional is your training if you can barely walk, and get called into an emergency situation.) For me these past two weeks were an acceptable anomaly to the routine.
Once again, go towards your goals, not for soreness. If you do find that the workouts you’re doing cause soreness, but you’re getting closer to your goal then that’s fine. But don’t seek soreness for soreness’ sake.
What to do for sore muscles?
Let’s say that you are sore, like I am right now. What do you do about it? As was stated the muscle is going to take time to repair. There is no way around it, it will take time. However you can do things that may speed up that recovery.
In order to repair, the muscles will need blood flow as this brings oxygen as well as other nutrition. Therefore you want to increase circulation to the area. This means exercising it more! This doesn’t mean repeating the same workout (although there are people who recommend that) but instead do something light for a period of time.
If you’re legs are sore from squats, walking, running or skipping rope could be a big help. The hiking actually seemed to help my legs and calves, during the first point, until it got to the point where it was too much.
If your shoulders or arms are sore, try swinging around light Indian clubs. You can use a light weight for many exercises for this reason.
Other ways to bring about more blood include manual manipulation or alternating hot and cold water treatments.
In addition your body needs the basics of proper nutrition and sleep to handle the job. Without these you won’t go far.
To recap you need to realize what brings about muscle soreness. For the most part this can be avoided or minimized in many situations. And when it does come about you can deal with it while still progressing further.