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Why Are My Muscles Sore After I Exercise?

Muscle pain that shows up a day or two after exercising – known as Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness or DOMS – can affect anyone, regardless of their fitness level. This type of stiffness or achiness is normal, it doesn’t last long and is a sign of your improving fitness. DOMS is caused by inflammation stemming from microscopic tears between your muscles and surrounding tissues. This often occurs when you start a new exercise program, change your exercise program in some way or after resuming exercise after a period of inactivity. Eccentric contractions, the movements that cause your muscles to lengthen under tension eg the downward motion of squats and push ups, seem to cause the most soreness. These damaged muscles release chemical irritants that trigger mild inflammation which awakens your pain receptors giving you that sore sensation. Post workout soreness is a normal response to exertion and part of an adaptive physiological process that leads to increased strength and stamina.

Anyone can develop DOMS, even those who have exercised for years, including elite athletes. DOMS can come as a shock for people who are new to exercise and it may dent their initial enthusiasm to get fit. The good news is that the pain decreases as your muscles get used to the new physical demands being placed on them. Unless you push yourself hard, you’re unlikely to develop DOMS after your next exercise session. DOMS is a type of muscle conditioning, which means your muscles are adapting to the new activity. The next time you perform the same activity, or exercise at the same intensity, there will be less muscle tissue damage, less soreness and a faster recovery.

Approaches to assist muscle soreness:

  • Healthy diet. A balanced healthy diet is the most important step you can take to give your body the essential building blocks it needs to form strong, resilient muscle tissue that resists inflammation.
  • Exercise correctly. Proper technique will not only reduce your chances of injury but you will get the most out of your workout.
  • Rest and Recover. Giving your body a rest from rigorous exercise once a week will give your body the chance to repair your muscles, tendons and ligaments reducing your risk of injury. If you want to exercise on a rest day do light exercise like walking or swimming.
  • Ice, heat or a combination of the two. Apply ice in the first 24 hours after an activity that leads to muscle pain. Cold has pain relieving properties that will help soothe your aches. Later apply heat to your muscles to warm them up before activity, then ice afterwards to cool the muscles down if they are feeling uncomfortable.
  • Try not to work the same muscles on consecutive days to allow adequate recovery. For example if you trained legs yesterday, the next day train your upper body exercises like chest, arms, back or abs instead.
  • Stretch. After exercising it is important to have a cool-down phase after your workout. Right before finishing, include 10 or so minutes of easy aerobic work such as jogging or walking followed by stretching. Stretching after a training session will increase flexibility by lengthening your muscles. You will notice straight away how tight your muscles are if you have not stretched in a while. You will also notice how much better you feel after you have stretched. You should find your flexibility increases slightly by the second or third set of each stretch.
  • Massage. Use a foam roller to aid in a deeper massage to reduce the inflammation, joint stress as well as improve circulation and improve flexibility.

Train smart and keep balance when stimulating the body to adapt to exercise without over challenging it. Looking after your body will give you longevity with your training and life in general. The soreness is just a part of an adaptation process which will bring you greater strength and stamina as your muscles rebuild.

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