The day after an intense workout, when every movement, turn of the steering wheel and reach into the cupboard reminds you of your exercise session, you either smile with satisfaction or cringe in pain. You know you’ve protected yourself. You wore gloves to protect your hands, warmed your muscles before lifting, and stretched your muscles after the session. Yet, you are still sore. It is great to be sore after a workout. The soreness means you have challenged your muscles to the point that your body needs to make improvements.
What Makes Muscles Sore?
When you strength train, your muscles are pushed beyond their normal limits. This is the goal. You want to stress the muscle fibers so your body sends repair cells to increase the size of those fibers. This stress creates small tears in the muscle tissue. The muscle cell membranes are damaged which increase inflammation in those areas. The inflammation causes waste products to be removed from the cells and these toxins stimulate nerves which your body interprets as pain. Often referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness, DOMS, you typically feel the pain the day or two after your resistance training workouts.
Your body is an incredible machine and focuses on repairing the damage from your workouts. The muscles receive an influx of white blood cells that are trying to repair the tears in the muscles, yet this surge of cells to the area may create more swelling and soreness. This soreness is a signal that changes are being made, but it may interrupt your next workout. If the soreness does not alleviate within a few days, speak with your doctor to determine if you have a muscle strain which requires more rest and anti-inflammatory options.
Decreasing Muscle Soreness
Now that you know what makes muscles sore, you can start to alter your routine a bit in order to decrease some of that pain. If DOMS interferes with your ability to work or perform your next workout session, use the following tips to decrease muscle soreness:
(a) Include a warm up to increase circulation to your working muscles
(b) Gradually increase your weight load instead of making dramatic leaps in the amount you lift
(c) Use proper form to protect your muscles from over-stretching and protect your joints from overuse
(d) Vary your workouts so your muscles are not stimulated in the same way each week
(e) Cool down and stretch the muscles used in your workout session
(f) Use safety equipment such as straps and gloves to reduce muscle soreness in your hands and arms