By Gina Redican, Owner/Personal Trainer at Accel Fitness
I cannot help smiling when my clients lament how sore they are after a workout, particularly after one of their first few sessions. Although they think I have an evil streak (perhaps it’s true), I follow up with an equally annoying cliché, “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.” That is generally met with an eye roll.
Soreness after a workout is caused by muscle damage. I know that sounds like the opposite of what the objective is, but microtears occurring during exercise are later repaired, making our muscle stronger and larger. The soreness and stiffness caused by exercise may be quite intense especially if you’re new to exercise and may also be quite alarming. But you can be assured that it will resolve in a short time.
One of the greatest surprises when you first start exercising is that you feel fine a few hours after your workout, but 12 to 24 hours later the pain sets in, with the peak of the symptoms occurring up to 1-3 days later. This phenomenon is known as delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, and it can last a little over three days. Although it seems counterintuitive, one of the best ways to alleviate muscle soreness is through movement. Staying still will only stiffen your joints, so do a few squats, go for a walk or move your arms in big circles to help ease your suffering.
Lactic acid buildup is erroneously thought of as causing DOMS. In fact, lactic acid causes acute soreness that lasts only a very short time and only during anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercise is exercise “without oxygen;” it is intense and brief, like jump squats. Lactic acid is a byproduct from the energy pathway used during anaerobic exercise, known as glycolysis. The body can reabsorb and utilize the lactic acid until a certain point, and it begins to build up in the muscle causing fatigue and a burning sensation. Once you are at rest, your body can recycle lactic acid via the cell’s mitochondria.
As your body grows stronger and accustomed to your exercise routine you will generally suffer less from such intense muscle soreness, and your ability to perform intense activities will increase. Being less sore does not mean you’re not making fitness gains. It is simply a reflection of your progress from exercise, which is why “no pain no gain” isn’t always true. Be warned, though, if you change your routine or perhaps try a new exercise/movement, you may find yourself experiencing the dreaded DOMS once again.