If you workout or play sports long enough, you’re bound to have a bad case of sore muscles at some point. You’ll really get nailed with a case of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) if you’ve taken a week or two away from exercising or playing a sport and jumped back into it again, full force. As the name suggests you won’t really feel it until about 8-12 hours after you’ve punished your muscles.
You know you’ll be sore, yet you do it anyway; what gives? If you’ve ever wondered about what actually causes sore muscles, and more to the point, what you can do to help yourself get over a bad case so you can stop feeling like crap every time you move, listen up.
First, the good news. Some muscle soreness is good. It means that you’re actually getting something out of your workouts. If you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough that you get sore once in a while, you’re probably sandbagging a bit. If this means you, start pushing for that few extra reps, one more set of tennis, or an extra degree of incline on the treadmill. When you feel that sore feeling all over your body the next day, you’ll know you’re working hard enough.
What Causes Sore Muscles?
Basically, muscle soreness means you blasted your muscles into submission. The feeling is caused because you actually damaged them slightly, but don’t worry! That’s just what they need to come back stronger the next time. Scientists have actually done tests (in Australia, way back in 2007) and determined that sore muscles are caused by damage to your muscle’s z-band filaments. These filaments actually bind muscle fibers together when they slide over each other as you use your muscles. Every time you push extra hard to lift weights, run, or throw, and use your muscles more than they are used to, you’re causing a mini catastrophe inside.
Help for Muscle Soreness
Now that you know what that feeling means, what can you do about it? Many of the old standby remedies for sore muscles simply don’t work, because they were developed primarily on the notion that sore muscles were caused by lactic acid build up due to exercise. While lactic acid certainly builds up in your muscles during hard exercise sessions, it is not the reason your muscle are sore, so getting rid of it will not help your problem. Stands to reason, right?
There is only one real “cure” for sore muscles, and that is to give them sufficient recovery time to heal. The bonus for you is that as they heal, they also get bigger and stronger. It’s called adaptive response. Your body adapts to stress by trying to be ready for whatever you’ll face the next time.
You can use heat to help increase blood flow and decrease recovery time. Increased blood flow to your muscles will bring them the vital nutrients and oxygen they need to recover.
Make sure you are eating enough high quality protein and drinking plenty of water. This will ensure you muscles have the proper nutrients to begin the rebuilding process. Adequate hydration is essential to not only recovery, but good performance and health in general.
Low intensity exercise can help decrease recovery time. While it may seem counterintuitive to exercise to help cure an exercise induced problem, this can work well. That is because exercising increases blood flow to your muscles. Just be sure you use low intensity exercise, such as slow swimming, or mild cardio.
Another popular and sometimes effective, but always enjoyable cure for sore muscles is a massage. Again, this helps stimulate blood flow to the affected area so your muscles get the added nutrients they need to heal quickly.
What Doesn’t Work to Get Rid of Sore Muscles
One of the most common treatments you’ll see recommended for sore muscles is stretching, on the theory that stretching helps rid your muscles of excess lactic acid that builds up during exercise. Again, because lactic acid is not why your muscles feel sore, stretching won’t help alleviate the symptoms, although a comprehensive stretching routine is fantastic for helping to gain strength, increase flexibility, and prevent injury, so it is highly recommended by most fitness experts.
Another thing that will not help to cure or prevent sore muscles is to do the customary “cool down” period after you finish exercising. Although this can help get rid of excess lactic acid, since lactic acid is not the cause of DOMS, the cooling down period will not help prevent it. A warm up period before you exercise, especially if you have not dome the specific movement in a while, can help decrease the severity of any post exercise sore muscles on some occasions though.
Remember, while some muscle soreness can be a sign that you are hitting it hard enough to actually benefit from your exercise routine, severe pain, especially in your joints can be a sign that you went too far, and really screwed something up. If you are sore for more than a week, or have intense, stabbing pain when making certain movements. A visit to your local health care provider may be warranted. If you’ve been training for some time, you’ll probably know the difference between a good case of sore muscles, and some thing more serious.
Happy training, and here’s to helping lose that belly fat!