What is muscle soreness? How can you relieve it or prevent it, if that is at all possible!?
The soreness you feel 8 to 48 hours after a workout is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It is the classic soreness we wear as a badge after those grueling workouts, or after simply having done exercises we haven’t done recently!
You’ll know you did a leg day when you struggle to sit on the toilet or hobble down the stairs in the 2 days that follow your workout.
Simple answer: hard exercise
Long answer: well, some research has pointed to the eccentric part of the exercises you perform. This is also called the “negative” part of the exercise, where the muscle is lengthening through the contraction. This occurs when you bring a deadlift, or when you descend into a squat. Moving slowly and controlled through this part of the exercise, particularly when it is heavy is a good prerequisite for DOMS.
The old, outdated theory which still gets tossed around the gym, was that soreness was a result of the toxic waste that built up in the muscles. Creating energy in a muscle also leaves behind by-products, like lactic acid. It was believed that the waste was causing inflammation and blockages in the muscle fibers. The time it took for the waste to clear out was believed to be the time a person felt soreness. We know now from a good body of research that this is not the case.
Muscle soreness is believed to be tiny, microscopic tears in the muscle fibers which cause some inflammation in the muscle as they heal up. The time it takes for them to heal up is likely the duration of soreness the athlete feels.
If you are participating in CrossFit… don’t expect to see a huge reduction in the occurrence of muscle soreness! CrossFit is a fitness system designed to always require adaptation to exercise. Diverse workouts which require maximum effort in strength or volume nearly always lead to muscle soreness.
And yet, there is hope! If you’ve been working out for more than a year or so, the amount of soreness you feel is likely going to reduce. The length of time you feel sore for will also shorted, and some people notice that the soreness appears more quickly and also leaves more quickly. This is a good sign. You are now in a league of physically active people who are constantly adapting and improving to the demand you place on your body!
You may not be able to prevent soreness, but you can reduce it and manage it to return to comfort and better workouts more quickly.
Eating well can also help to reduce the effect of the inflammation and accelerate recovery. It’s not just about proteins and BCAA’s; vitamins and minerals play a big part in healing and repairing muscles and connective tissue. Be sure to hydrate very well after tough trainings.
Stretching was initially believed to help reduce the intensity of DOMS because it was believed the lengthening the muscle would help remove waste. This is true! More fluid is able to enter and leave, providing nutrients to the micro-tears. Healing can occur quickly if the right nutrients are immediately absorbed into the space.
My favorite way to manage soreness is taking a warm bath in epsom salts right after the workout, or at least a few hours following. The magnesium in the salt helps to fully relax the muscles. A quick 5 to 10 minute soak is enough to have the right effect.
Of course, these are just a few of the measures you can take to manage soreness; we can’t promise you won’t actually feel sore when you push your body to the limits.
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