Sore muscles from intense exercise is something we all have to go through in order to get stronger and build muscle. I'm sure that most of you have experienced some degree of muscle soreness at one point or another, particularly after a super hard workout. In fact, as I write this article, my triceps and chest are killing me from last nights workout!
There are varying degrees of muscle soreness. Mild muscle soreness can last up to a couple of days while delayed onset muscle soreness (more extreme) can last up to a week. Of course, the later is the one that usually sucks and one that can be really hinder your movements.
After 20 odd years of weight training, muscle soreness is something I've personally come to expect and, depending on my level of fitness it can vary from mild to extreme.
That is, if I've taken a couple of weeks off, or even taken an extended break from training, such as a month or two, I know that my body will be much more prone to muscle soreness after exercise than if I was in the middle of my training cycle.
Let me give you a personal example. I remember this one time that I took a full month off from training.
When I came back, I hit the squat rack hard and heavy. I did a full, high intensity leg workout in which I really took my legs to the limit. The next day, I felt no soreness and my legs felt really great. However, the soreness slowly crept in and by the third day, I swear, I felt like I needed hospital care. I literally couldn't move! I couldn't go up or down a flight of stairs! I couldn't even get out of bed! This was a bad case of delayed onset muscle soreness brought on by a bad case of stupid training.
These days I know my body well enough, that after taking some time off, I never, ever jump in to full throttle training without allowing my body to adapt. Now, before we go any further, I guess we have to find out what causes muscle soreness.
Muscle soreness is caused by micro-trauma to the muscles. Tiny microscopic tears occur in the muscles during exercise (such as weight training). It can be caused by anything that stresses the muscles more than what they're used to. For example, cutting firewood for the first time at the start of autumn will cause muscle soreness, helping a buddy move out of his apartment will cause soreness, and of course, weight training. The severity will depend on how hard you worked. Sore and tender muscles can be classified under three categories:
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is what I like to call the creeper. DOMS usually happens after taking some time off from training and than coming back to train hard, right off the bat without allowing your body time to adapt. It can also happen by altering your training routine by adding new exercises, sets, reps, or other training variables. Adding varying levels of intensity to your training routine will generally stress your body enough to cause varying levels of muscle soreness.
Delayed onset muscle soreness usually creeps in after a day or two after your training and can last three days to one week, depending on your level of fitness. Let me give you a couple of examples. Let's say you take a month off from training. You come back to the gym and hit the weights hard without taking it easy. This will definitely lead to delayed muscle onset soreness. Let's say you add a couple of giant sets to your program. This may potentially lead to delayed onset muscle soreness.
Delayed onset muscle soreness is dependent on your levels of intensity. Generally, the higher levels of intensity you introduce to your training schedule, the higher the probability of muscle soreness.
What can you do about this type of muscle soreness after exercise? Well, there are certain views about this topic as to what a person can do for muscle soreness. One view is to do what is called a recovery routine. That is, let's say you are still sore and it's time to train. What a recovery routine will do is reduce your training weights by 40% to 50% thereby reducing the overall intensity. This way, you don't exert the muscle any more than it needs to be. Another view is to do some light stretches and massaging. The reasoning behind these two strategies is to help get rid of the lactic acid in the muscle and get some blood flowing through the muscle.
Where do I stand? Well, I tried both of these methods and more than once have they made the problem worse. I used to show up to the gym, barely moving from muscle soreness and trying to do some light work with weights in order to lightly work the muscle and get the blood flowing. This never worked. I also tried doing some light stretches and massaging and it hurt like hell.
Here's my take on delayed onset muscle soreness. Your body has a very clear and concise way of telling you when it doesn't want to be bothered. When it tells you to stay away from weights and other forms of activity, it will tell you by making your whole body very, very sore. If it doesn't want you to train chest, chances are, your chest is still going to be sore from the prior training session. If your calves are still killing your from the last calf workout, your body is telling you not to train them again. Why go to the gym to make it worse?
Do you really want to know what your body is telling you when it's sore? It's saying, leave me alone, don't work me or train me, just feed me plenty of nutrients and give me plenty of rest and I'll come back stronger than ever, when I'm better. That's it.
Now, you may be wondering if it's ok to train other body parts that are not sore. Take biceps for example. Let's say you trained them hard on Monday and it's now Wednesday and time to train back. However, your biceps are still killing you. What do you do? I used to train right through my biceps pain and try and hit my back hard. You want to know something? This was just so ineffective. I couldn't hit my back as hard as I wanted to because my biceps were simply too sore. It actually made my biceps pain worse.
I now know that If I wait just a couple of more days, give my biceps more nutrients and rest, I'll be able to lift even more weight by the time I train back again. Why? My biceps are stronger! It's amazing what your body can do once it's healed.
Now, there is an exception. Let's say I trained back on Monday, and it's now Wednesday and time to hit my legs. My legs are not sore at all and has no real connection to my back. If my back is still a little sore but I'm training an unrelated body part, I'll train around that body part. That is the only time I'll make an exception.
Now, I always make sure that I watch my body very, very closely (after numerous injuries). Want to know what my recovery schedule is? It's not going to the gym to train. It's by feeding my body a lot of quality recovery nutrients, and giving it a lot of quality, stress free rest.
Here's what I do in order to kick start my recovery process:
1) Immediately after training, I have a drink loaded with 5 to 10 grams of creatine, 5 to 10 grams of glutamine, 40 to 50 grams of whey protein isolate, 70 grams of fast acting carbs;
This drink kick starts the recovery process and shuttles nutrients into the muscle cells as soon as possible. If I can, I'll make sure it's loaded with BCAA's (branch chain amino acids);
2) About one hour later, I have a full muscle building meal which is loaded with plenty of quality protein (40 to 50 grams), plenty of complex carbs (about 60 grams), and plenty of quality fat (about 20 to 30 grams). I'll also load myself up on water - About 2 to 3 glasses and maybe a multi vitamin pack such as Animal Paks and an anti oxidant.
By doing this, I'm giving my body more nutrients in order to start the rebuilding process as quick as possible and give it more vitamins and minerals it lost during training. Also, your body is weak and your immune system is low. An anti oxidant helps fight off free radicals that destroy muscle tissue and keeps sickness at bay (which you are very susceptible at this point).
3) Have a bed time snack that's loaded with protein and complex carbs. I know, you've been told that it's bad to have carbs before bed but trust me, give your body some quality complex carbs before you go to bed and your muscles will soak it all up by the time you get up.
Try having a bowl of slow cooked oats, mixed with 5 egg whites and a scoop of protein powder. This will give your body nourishment while it's rebuilding itself during sleep time.
4) Get plenty of rest. Get at least 8 hours of sleep per night. It will do wonders!
5) As soon as you get up, have a drink loaded with 5 to 10 grams of glutamine, 40 to 50 grams of whey protein isolate, 70 grams of fast acting carbs;
This will kick start your recovery process and give your starving body some fuel (carbs), and building material (protein).
6) About 40 minutes later, have a big, full breakfast made up of complex carbs and plenty of protein.
7) Make Tiger Balm Extra your friend. Apply this cream where it's sore and you should be able to go to bed pain free.
Here's a rule I train by. If you have a hard time getting out of bed and have a hard time moving your body, don't train. If you have a hard time going to the bathroom because your too sore, stay home. If you get up and have a hard time lifting your arms, stay home. If you feel super tired because your body is so sore, stay home.
Often hard weight training sessions takes a toll on our central nervous system. For example, even if your muscles aren't sore, your mental and physical state is totally exhausted. This is the result of an exhausted central nervous system.
Now there is another type of soreness that I should tell you about. This type of soreness is the injury kind. If you feel sharp pain within the muscle and joints, you might have injured yourself. With this type of pain, you will kind of break out in a cold sweat and go pale.
Pins and needles pain is never good so if you feel this kind of pain after a set, stop training and go home. Do not, I repeat, do not train through the pain! If you wake up the next morning and the pain is nothing you have ever experienced before, go see your doctor. Never try and train with an injured body part.
I hope this article helps with your muscle soreness. Remember, muscle soreness is a sure sign that you trained properly and muscle growth is right around the corner.
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