You have exercised and you want to feel it.
You have worked hard and want to be reminded of it.
You think it makes all that effort well worth it.
Your pain is justified. It is hard evidence of the workout you did.
So when you feel that pain in the muscles the day after the workout that doesn’t let you sit, walk or pick things without groaning, you complain, albeit secretly and sadistically enjoying every minute of it. Your favorite adage…’no pain, no gain’, using pain almost as a motivator until your next workout.
What causes post workout muscle pain?
When you exercise in any manner, you intentionally impose stress factors and overload your muscles to initiate changes in your body in an effort to improve fitness. This impacts the ‘homeostasis’ or the ‘environment’ of your body. And as everything in life, any cause has an effect; in this case it is muscle soreness. What you have done, is created a different environment in your body, disturbed its’ natural balance and put it in a different and altered physiological state, called allostasis.
Why do you get muscle and body soreness? What causes it?
Muscle soreness post a workout, the technical name for which is DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) is caused due to a combination of microscopic tears in the muscles caused by the overload and exercise stressors and inflammation as part of the repair and rebuilding process. You normally feel it 24 to 48 hours post a workout.
This may sound scary, but it is a normal response to the stressors. What is important is that while you cannot completely avoid it especially when you introduce a new workout to your exercise regime, it can be reduced as much as possible through preventive measures and managed in a way to avoid prolonged soreness.
Is post workout muscle and body soreness a good thing?
No. Although soreness it a natural response, it must be minimized through some simple measures. It can be a de-motivator or a deterrent and it could make you avoid workouts in the near future especially if you do not enjoy exercising and are doing it because you must. Besides, exercising is meant to increase your fitness in Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and not add to your difficulties.
How to avoid muscle soreness?
Warm-Up-Well: Do not shock your muscles into a workout. Nobody likes to be jolted. Do Dynamic Stretching, activating the muscles that you will be using in the ensuing workout. Increase your core temperature to create an environment within the body to accept movement and contractions.
Progressive Training: Overload your muscles gradually, here again, applying the do-not-shock your muscles principle. Progressive training would mean applying a slow progression in exercise both within a workout and within the overall exercise program.
Overtraining: Do not overtrain. To use a cliché, overtraining is overstraining.
Do not overdo your exercises in form, intensity or time. More is not better.
Cool-Down: Any exercise regimen must have a ‘wake-up’ or warm-up phase, a body of exercise and an indulgent cool-down segment. This is when you signal to your muscles to relax and go into a recovery mode. Use Static Stretching now, since your muscles are happily elastic, and hold stretches of the muscles used in the workout upto 20 seconds each.
How to handle muscle soreness?
Once you’ve got it, you have to deal with it!
Hot-and-Cold Therapies: A combination of hot and cold compresses, or hot and cold showers can be a way of releasing DOMS. Cold and heat therapies reduce inflammation and pain and increase muscle pliability, so a combination can be used as a technique to manage and alleviate DOMS.
Hot Pads: Warm temperatures increase blood flow to sore muscles due to increase in circulation. Soak in a hot bath, or apply heat through a heat pad or a hot water bottle directly to the spot that is sore for about 10-15 minutes. Be careful not to burn the skin.
Exercising through pain: Not a good idea. If the soreness has set in, give a heavy workout a break the following day. Avoid the same workout for a while and return to it after a small break. Take complete rest if the pain is intense or ‘active rest’ if there is basic soreness, like a light walk or dynamic stretching activity.
Myofascial Release: Self-massage, or using foam rollers for easing the muscles can be one way of ‘un-knotting’ those strained muscles. Foam rollers increase blood flow to your muscles through applied pressure, but you must know how to use them in terms of both pressure and technique.
And finally, like I always say, respect your body.
If it is in pain, it is a manifestation of the internal state of your body; it is begging you for a break. Take rest to recover from exercise. Listen to your body. It will tell you when to go, and when to stop.