You just finished your first session of a new training program. Over the next day or so, you start to feel the soreness building up in your muscles. Wow, what a great workout! Or was it? We have all experienced this DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). However, it begs a few important questions: What causes it? Is it helpful for making gains? And, should I be seeking it or avoiding it? It is time you know the truth about muscle soreness.
One of the easiest ways to get sore is to simply do something you are not used to doing. This causes many people to mistakenly think that the new exercise is better than the old one. Do not be fooled.
Coming back from an extended layoffs
From time to time you may have to stop training for various reasons (e.g. illness). When coming back from a layoff, many people make the mistake of going to hard. This is easy to do because when you are off, your body de-trains, but your mind does not. As a result, you come back with a vengeance, over-do it and pay the price for the next several days.
The less frequent you train a movement or muscle group, the more likely you are to get sore after you do train it. Want to always have sore legs? Just train legs once per week.
The eccentric or lower phase of a lift causes a lot of soreness. If this lower phase is emphasized, it can make you sore.
What about lactic acid?
Lactic acid is the burning sensation you feel when you do things like 20 rep squat sets and 400 meter sprints. However contrary to popular belief, lactic acid does not contribute to the delayed soreness we are talking about here.
What’s going on inside my muscles?
My latest exercise physiology textbook provided the following possible causes of muscle soreness:
- Minute tears in muscle tissue or damage to contractile components with release of creatine kinase, myoglobin and troponin I
- Osmotic pressure changes that produce fluid retention in surrounding tissues
- Muscle spasms
- Overstretching and tearing portions of the muscles connective tissue harness
- Acute inflammation
- Alteration in the cell’s mechanism for calcium regulation
- A combination of the above factors
Do I want to be sore?
This is the big question we’ll look at next time…
What have you found causes you the most muscle soreness?
McArdle, WD, Katch, FI & Katch, VL. (2015). Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, energy, and human performance. 8th ed. New York: Wolters Kluwer.