On Post-Workout Muscle Soreness

A buddy of mine on Facebook recently asked about muscle soreness after a workout:

I've heard some mixed feelings about muscle soreness equating to a good workout. Most trainers I've worked with say, "if you're not sore, you did it wrong", others say there's no relation other than your muscles not being used to that workout, and doesn't mean you didn't get a good one just because you're not sore.

This is a great line of questioning, and I thought I'd expound on the answer a bit.

The term used for this phenomenon is Delayed onset muscle soreness -- or DOMS. DOMS is basically muscle pain, soreness, or stiffness felt between 12 and 48 hours after a workout. Typically, DOMS is most noticeably experienced at the beginning of a new an workout routine, after a change in physical activities, or after a significant increase in the duration and/or intensity of activity.

Daunting as "Delayed onset muscle soreness" may sound to some, it's actually quite normal after an unusual exertion of muscle energy. Not to mention, DOMS is one component of an adaptation process your body goes through in a natural progression toward achieving greater strength and stamina. More simply, soreness is part of muscle recovery and a byproduct of hypertrophy.

So what do I think about the two scenarios posed in my friend's question? Well, if you've read my stuff in the past, you know that I have a theory of competing theories which basically states that the truth can probably be found somewhere in the middle.

While I believe you should always be modifying and progressing in your workouts to "surprise" your muscles, thus subjecting yourself to a somewhat constant state of soreness, changes in your routine shouldn't cause a degree of soreness that hinders future exercise.

Does that makes sense?

And while DOMS in and of itself isn't anything to worry about, there are quite a few things you can do to prevent, avoid all together, and/or shorten the duration of muscle soreness:

  • Warm up thoroughly before activity and cool down completely afterward.
  • Cool Down with gentle stretching after exercise.
  • Follow the 10% Rule. When beginning a new activity start gradually and build up your time and intensity no more than ten percent per week.
  • Know the 10 Tips for Safe Workouts.
  • Follow the Spring Training Fitness Tips.
  • Hire a personal trainer if you aren't sure how to start a workout program that is safe and effective.
  • Start a new weight lifting routine with light weights and high reps (10-12) and gradually increase the amount you lift over several weeks.
  • Avoid making sudden major changes in the type of exercise you do.
  • Avoid making sudden major changes in the amount of time that you exercise.

Those should help you prevent soreness. But what about the aftermath? What should you do when you are indeed sore after working out?

Nothing that I have found has been proven effective in reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness. However, there are plenty of tips and tricks some folks recommend to get you through the following days.

  • Wait. Soreness will go away in 3 to 7 days with no special treatment.
  • Try an Ice Bath or Contrast Water Bath. Although no clear evidence proves they are effective, many pro athletes use them and claim they work to reduce soreness.
  • Use active recovery techniques. This strategy does have some support in the research. Perform some easy low-impact aerobic exercise to increase blood flow. This may help diminish muscle soreness.
  • Use the RICE method of treating injuries.
  • Although research doesn't find gentle stretching reduces soreness, some people find it simply feels good.
  • Gently massage the affected muscles. Some research has found that massage was effective in alleviating DOMS by approximately 30% and reducing swelling, but it had no effects on muscle function.
  • Try using a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (aspirin or ibuprofen) to reduce the soreness temporarily, though they won't actually speed healing.
  • There is some evidence that performing Yoga may reduce DOMS.
  • Avoid any vigorous activity that increases pain.
  • Allow the soreness to subside thoroughly before performing any vigorous exercise.
  • Don't forget to warm up completely before your next exercise session. There is some research that supports that a warm-up performed immediately prior to unaccustomed eccentric exercise produces small reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness (but cool-down performed after exercise does not).
  • ** If your pain persists longer than about 7 days or increases despite these measures, consult your physician.
  • Learn something from the experience! Use prevention first.

So in conclusion, if you're not sore after a lifting weights, yeah, you probably need to push yourself a little harder. However, what's the point of being really sore if you're not able to workout for a few days as a result?

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I'm Less Than One Week Away...

From instructing my first (5-week) fitness boot camp. I'm formulating my plan and aggregating the best exercises from a plethora of sources.

But I also want to hear from any of you who have participated in fitness boot camps. What were some of the most beneficial exercises you experienced?

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How Does Creatine Work?

That question was posed to me this morning at work this morning, and I thought the short answer would make a good post here at The Men's Health Blog -- especially since I haven't posted in awhile.

The whole process comes down to ATP.

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is a multifunctional nucleotide, and the initial fuel for muscle contractions. For short-duration explosive sports, such as sprinting, weight lifting and other anaerobic exercises, ATP is the energy system used. Creatine increases energy of muscles by increasing the amount of ATP.

More specifically, ATP provides energy by releasing a phospate molecule, at which point it becomes ADP (adenosine diphosphate). The energy produced during this process lasts only seconds. Once the energy is used, more ATP must be produced. This is where creatine phosphate, or also called phosphocreatine (the form that creatine is stored in the body), comes into play. It gives its phosphate to the ADP making another ATP. This ATP again, is used as energy for a few seconds and then the process repeats. This process is called ATP regeneration.

Stay with me now.

ATP regeneration keeps your body from relying on glycolysis, which is a process where lactic acid is built up during your workout. Reduced lactic acid allows you to workout longer and harder, thus maximizing every muscle’s workout, and allows you to gain more muscle, strength and size. Your ability to generate ATP depends on your supply of creatine.

So basically, the more creatine you have, the more ATP you'll be able to produce. You will eventually lose energy molecules, however, so no matter how much creatine you have in your body it won't do any good without the presence of the energy molecules. And the production of these energy molecules depends heavily on ribose.

Ribose is another post in and of itself.

Whether or not creatine is right for you, is up to you. No studies that I know have shown creatine to have any serious adverse side effects. As expected, however, some studies have shown creatine to cause gas, bloating, and diarreah when used in excess.

If done properly, creatine can provide more energy, endurance, strength, and weight gain.

But do your homework.

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