We’ve all been there: great workout session, feeling really proud and good about how everything went, sleep like a baby that night.
“Ok, how the fuck am I supposed to stand back up now that I’ve (barely) managed to sit down?” is also somewhere most of us have been.
It’s common to be sore after exercise and most people are often a little disappointed when they’re not sore after a tough workout. Still others, excited to get into this whole exercise and healthy eating thing they’ve been hearing about, will often never come back to the gym after their first day for fear that every time thereafter has to be that painful.
So what is muscle soreness, exactly?
Well, every time you exercise, your muscles are literally being ripped apart, albeit at a microscopic level. When your muscles are lengthened under load, be it external load via free weights, machines, or simply bodyweight, your muscle fibers experience minute amounts of damage. This damage is what causes you to be sore. However, it is also this damage that makes you become stronger and grow more muscle; when the muscles are damaged via exercise, the body essentially says:
WTF?? I can’t go having my muscles ripped apart like that. I better make them bigger and/or stronger so that doesn’t happen again.
As your body grows more and/or stronger muscle fibers, your strength levels and muscle mass also increases. This is why progressive overload coupled with consistency are the keys to making progress in the gym; your body will adapt to stressors placed upon it so you must give it bigger stressors over time.
Just as your body grows stronger over time, it also grows less susceptible to soreness. If you’ve been exercising consistently for a few months or longer, you’re much less likely to get sore in your day to day routine. It’ll still happen from time to time, especially if you try a new exercise or routine that you’ve never done before. But soreness is NOT an indicator of a good workout. Likewise, if you’re a new lifter just getting into a routine, the soreness will go away as you adapt.
This leads me to how to prevent soreness or relieve soreness after the fact. Short answer: you can’t. Not really. As I said, soreness is directly caused by trauma to the muscles. People often advocate stretching, foam rolling, icing, eating ice cream, etc. Nothing can heal trauma except rest so the best way to relieve soreness is to sleep.
You can, slightly, help prevent soreness by going lighter/easier than you think you need to if you’re just starting a routine. The workout might feel like a cake walk but that means you’ll be less sore and be ready to get back into the gym sooner rather than later. Also, doing a VERY easy cardio workout for 20-40 minutes (if you’re going faster than a very easy jog, you’re going too hard) after a tough workout can help speed recovery. This works because it will increase blood flow to your muscles, which will help bring in nutrients to help them recover as well as speed away waste product. As you grow stronger and adapt to exercise, consecutive workout days can/will be a normal thing.
- Soreness tends to happen less often as your training experience increases
- Soreness has nothing to do with how hard/good a workout is
- There’s no real way to prevent being sore
- If you’re always sore after a workout you’re probably training like an asshole…or have a medical condition you should get checked out…but probably the former