Ever wonder why after heading back to the gym after taking few weeks off from working out we feel stiff and sore the next few days. Or if you have to shovel snow or clean out the garage does your back, legs and shoulder ache. Everyone has experienced this muscle stiffness and soreness at some time or another after physical exertion, but why?
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, also known DOMS, is described as muscle pain, soreness or stiffness that usually occurs 24-48 hours after working out. It generally peaks around the 24 hour mark and in severe cases can last for 3-4 days after.
The causes are not fully understood but are theorized to be due to small micro-tears of the muscle fibers and are thought to be related to certain types of muscle contractions. The severity of the pain is not necessarily related to the severity of muscle damage but it does depend to a large extent on the type of exercise, the duration and the intensity.
Depending on the level of soreness, working out the next day is okay and can actually help relieve the stiffness. You should take it easy and not overdo it especially with lower body/leg exercises. Warm up well beforehand and perform some light sets of the exercises before the real sets. Stretching can also be very beneficial in relieving the soreness. For severe soreness, icing and massage the affected areas can also help. You can also just wait it out as it will simply go away after a few days.
Most people experience some level of being sore after beginning a workout program, or performing an activity that they have not participated in for a while. This can be avoided by taking it very gradual when beginning a program and progressing with very small increments. As the body adapts to exercise so to it should adapt to the response to increases in exertion levels. Contrary to the popular belief that once you have been working out for a few weeks you should not continue to experience DOMS after your workouts. If you completely change your program and start something very different then you will experience a certain amount of soreness but not the same levels as when you began your program first.
Not feeling any soreness after working out does not mean you are not working out hard enough or that you have hit the plateau. It just means that you have both adapted to this level of exertion and also your body has adapted to the pain response related to exertion. It is okay not to feel stiff or sore after working out.
There is a distinction between soreness and pain. Pain is a message from the body – “too much!” So when we feel pain, it is our cue to stop, take a breath, and reassess. Sometimes the act of stopping and breathing is enough to ease the pain and then we can continue. But other times, a different approach is called for. Easing off, going at a slower pace, or trying a different exercise may be more appropriate.
At times like these, it can be useful to look at our health and wellness from a long-term perspective. In the long term, developing a loving and honest relationship with ourselves and our bodies is a much more effective way of getting to where we want to be. If for today, we ease up, soften our approach, we may just have the energy and wellness to push a little harder tomorrow. Certainly our motivation to exercise our bodies, and the likelihood of training again, will be much higher if we are kind to ourselves.
So next time you’re out and over-doing it, take a breath and just stop for a moment. What is your body saying? The more we learn to listen, the more we can pick up on those cues sooner.
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