If you’ve ever done any activity out of the ordinary, you know what it’s like to be sore after. If you’ve done squats, you know walking up and down steps is like torture the day after. Or have your arms shaking after an intense workout. Whether you’re still working toward that New Year’s resolution of getting into shape or just pushing yourself a bit past your normal, it’s important to be aware that there are many misconceptions about muscle soreness.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the result of microscopic tears in the muscles and surrounding connective tissues, causing inflammation. This term is used frequently when it comes to both cardio workouts as well as strength training, but knowing the facts about it is important when deciding what is true and what isn’t. Let’s disperse some myths associated with DOMS so you can know what to expect after your gym session.
DOMS is caused by the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles:
When working out, your body naturally forms energy by breaking down molecules. As a result of this process, your body’s cells become more acidic which causes the “burn” you feel when you are getting a good workout. The myth that lactic acid causes this is false because lactate serves as a buffer to slow down the rate that the cells become acidic. The lactate naturally clears from the muscles within 15-30 minutes after your workout. A study in Clinics in Sports Medicine concluded that DOMS is the result of microtrauma in the muscles and surrounding connective tissues which causes inflammation. The act of lowering a dumbbell after a bicep curl is more likely to cause this microtrauma as opposed to lifting a dumbbell during a bicep curl due to the higher load being placed on your muscles.
It’s not a good workout unless you’re sore the next day:
Most of us feel that we didn’t get a good workout if we aren’t in pain the next day because that’s what we’re told; no pain no gain, right?. Wrong! While muscle soreness from a great workout can last from 24-72 hours after a workout, there are many factors that affect how different individuals experience DOMS even if they come from a similar background or are similarly trained. A good workout, whether cardiovascular in nature or strength training, may or may not result in DOMS, depending on the individual, other recent activities, diet, hydration, and a number of other factors. While this muscle soreness isn’t something to necessarily avoid, muscle failure after a workout means you’ve probably pushed too far, and next time it would be a good idea to ease up a bit.
The more in shape you are, the less you will experience DOMS:
You may find that the more in shape you are the more your body will get used to an activity and you may not experience much DOMS. But that’s often the case when you’re doing the same kinds of workouts each time, without recruiting under-utilized muscles for new activities and movements. Those muscles are simply stronger and more capable of handling the load you’re putting on them. That’s why it’s suggested to change your workout routine regularly in order to challenge yourself. What many people don’t know is that there is another factor that weighs in on this, pun intended; your genetics. Some may be known as no-responders, low-responders, and high-responders in the way of soreness. For those who are more sensitive to muscle soreness, this may not be exciting news. Regardless, it’s a good idea to test where you fall on the scale of pain by tracking how your body responds to changes in your workouts.
Muscle damage is bad:
This microtrauma to the muscles during activities is normal. When muscles repair themselves, they become larger and stronger in order to prepare themselves for heavier loads in the future. In this, a little pain does result in a little gain. While DOMS isn’t necessarily a desirable outcome, there’s not much reason for concern unless the pain is very sharp, specific to a particular movement, and doesn’t go away in just a day or two; a sign that there’s possibly an injury present as opposed to general muscle soreness.
Pre and post-workout stretching can prevent DOMS:
You’ve heard time and time again that it is important to stretch before and after your workout in order to protect your muscles, but the question is, does this really work? According to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews on the effects of stretching before or after exercise on the development of DOMS, stretching in healthy adults before and after exercise did not reduce the effects of DOMS. Static stretching performed before a workout, however, was shown to decrease your strength during the workout.
When trying anything new in the world of exercising it’s always advisable to proceed slowly and with caution in order to allow your body to adjust to the new movements. Don’t jump right into an excessive routine because you think you’ll get faster results. That’s simply not how the body works. Doing that means you’re more likely to injure yourself and burn out in the process.