A lot of people who come to me are new to strength training and working out in general. I love channeling my passion for fitness to serve as a role model and present a positive fitness experience for people. That’s the main reason I got into personal training in the first place. Strength training is not a viable solution to our health problems if everyone is miserable while working out! That being said, training is no walk in the park (unless of course walking is what you’re training to do), and working hard means a lot of sweat, maybe some blood, maybe some tears, and definitely some muscle soreness.
If you’ve worked with me as a trainer, you will remember among the first things we talked about are 1) your background in fitness 2) your fitness goals moving forward. Hey, so you came to me to achieve some specific results, and you know exercise will get you there. Awesome! I love focusing on the positive, but it is also important to understand the risks and unpleasantries of being active along with the many benefits. If you are just starting out a new activity and putting your body through movements it’s never experienced before, you are bound to be sore afterwards. You remember that first workout I put you through, right? Ha, I bet you’ll never forget! Hahaha.
Ok, ok… seriously, contrary to what my devilish grin and maniacal laugh may make you think… I am not all about making you sore. Just keep reading…
What does normal muscle soreness feel like?
Let’s talk about normal muscle soreness during and after a workout. It could be described as:
- pain or soreness (duh…) in the muscle
- slight “tickle” in the muscle
- burning sensation in the muscle while contracting
- stiffness or tightness in the muscle
- a feeling of fatigue or heaviness in the muscle
- sensitive to the touch, an almost-bruised feeling in the muscle
Notice I put “in the muscle” after every one of those bullet points. I want to drive a point home. Muscle soreness is NOT:
- pain, soreness, aching or discomfort in a joint or bone
- sharp pain
- numbness or tingling
- burning, tingling, or numbness while stretching a muscle
Muscle soreness can occur during and directly after a workout (called acute muscle soreness) or resurface 24 to 48 hours after your workout (called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS). DOMS typically peaks around 24 to 72 hours and should typically feel better after at least 96 hours (4 days). If pain lasts longer than a week, occurs in a joint or bone, or continues to hurt with future workouts, you should get it checked out by a doctor.
And why do I feel this way?
Muscle soreness is caused by eccentric contractions of the muscle (think about the action of lowering a weight after you’ve done a bicep curl). As the muscle elongates under tension, tiny microfibers in the muscle tear, which cause inflammation and feelings of soreness. That’s the basic science. But still, why? What did you do? Maybe you lifted (or speaking eccentrically, lowered) a heavier weight than you have before. Maybe you lifted the weight faster (or lowered the weight slower) than you’re used to. Maybe you performed more repetitions. Maybe you performed the exercise in a greater range of motion. Maybe you did an entirely new motion that you’ve never done before.
Is soreness a good thing?
Not every workout will make you sore. If you’re not feeling sore after a workout, it’s fine! That doesn’t mean that you didn’t train hard enough. It doesn’t mean you’re not getting stronger. It doesn’t mean your muscles aren’t adapting. In fact, take it as a good sign. You completed a tough workout that would have nearly killed you a month ago, and you’re not sore at all… that’s proof of muscle adaptation at it’s finest!
Muscle soreness is technically a “subclinical” injury. You don’t need to “injure” your muscle every time you train to know it’s adapting to your workouts. Typically, soreness comes with a new workout routine. You pushed your muscles past a certain point that they couldn’t handle without “tearing” slightly, and now your body must heal and rebuild the muscles to adapt to meet the demands of your life.
Soreness is an indicator. It tells you that you worked hard. It’s something short term that you have to show for your gym time. Many people have come to associate muscle soreness with a “good, hard workout” and therefore faster progress to achieving their goals. However, that’s not the case. Muscle soreness ≠ progress. And too much muscle soreness (as I said above, lasting for longer than one week) means you worked a bit too hard.
Hey, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that little bit of muscle soreness as much as the other gym addicts. It’s a battle “scar” to be proud of. Go ahead, complain to your friends and coworkers. Exaggerate with that little bit of limp down the stairs. Stretch your triceps and hamstrings with a grimace on your face. Be a lil’ drama queen/king. But don’t judge a trainer based on how sore they can made you because trust me, we can make you sore! MWAHAHAHA. Just be sure that the soreness is an indicator that you’re working hard in the right direction toward your goals, and that you’re not completely beating up your body. Be nice to your body, it’s the only one you’ve got!
The pain is there for a reason. Learn from it. Adapt to it.
If it’s bad, get it checked out by a doctor/therapist… Whatever you do, don’t numb it.
Yes, the pain is there for a reason. In your life… it’s always there for a reason. In terms of muscle soreness, it’s the muscle saying, “Slow it down, and rest me for a day or so! Pay attention to me!” I don’t advocate for numbing things in general. (All these pills we take: painkillers, antidepressants… don’t get me started!) If you’re really that sore that you need a pill to numb the pain, you pushed it too hard. Let’s talk about some better things you can do to help that ornery muscle make a speedy recovery. Since this post is already long enough, I’m going to split this into two posts. Check the following post for Muscle Recovery methods.
You can read more about muscle soreness to your heart’s content.
If you have a subscription to PTontheNET, check out: Mechanical Tissue Damage
If not, this is also a great article: Muscle Soreness: Recovery & Treatment