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WHAT SORE MUSCLES ACTUALLY MEAN

If you’ve ever worked out a day in your life, you’ve probably experienced the feeling before. You know when you try to sit down in a chair, then get back up and you can barely move your legs? Or when you’ve worked your arm and back muscles really hard and can barely put shampoo in your hair while taking a shower?

That’s the kind of pain we are talking about, and many people refer to it as “good pain” because we associate muscle soreness with how effective our workouts are. It’s the same idea we have about the relationship between sweating and exercise, and although it’s easy to assume that the sorer you are from a workout, the better it was, the two do not always go hand and hand. Here is what that stiffness actually means.

TEARING AND REACTION OF MUSCLES 

That common stiffness many people experience a couple of days after an intense sweat session is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS for short. According to Daily Burn, the soreness kicks in about eight hours after, with a peak time of typically 24 to 48 hours after a tough workout. DOMS is the technical term for the reaction of your muscles tearing and adjusting to new physical activity. Think of your soreness (DOMS) as your muscles preparing your body for future activity. While this can mean that a workout was effective and does mean your muscles are growing and responding, it does not mean you can’t see growth without it.

LESS PAIN, MORE GAIN

We love this kind of pain because we’ve been told over and over that it’s equivalent to gaining muscle. SWEAT Instructor, Kayla Itsines says that while this definitely holds some truth, we fall under the trap that gains are nothing without pain. She advises to stop confusing a challenging workout with muscle pain, because when it comes to seeing results, they are different. What it comes down to is recovery time, which is something many of us only think about when we experience DOMS.

Take this scenario: you’ve gotten in the groove of a new workout routine. At the beginning, you felt muscle soreness all of the time, but a few months later, you’re doing the same workout, and the soreness has either worn off or is completely gone. In this case, you’re not challenging your body enough anymore.

Your muscles got used to the amount of weight you’ve been lifting which means you can now lift heavier weight. Often times people look at this in a negative way because they aren’t feeling the “pain” part, and it’s very easy to come to the conclusion of “no pain, no gain,” but what it actually means is that you are now stronger because you’re experiencing less DOMS and your muscles are able to recover quicker.

According to Vitals, DOMS is the worst at the beginning of a workout routine. So, if you’re someone who just started a fitness program or going to the gym and your muscles are on fire, it’s because your muscles are trying to adjust. Vitals also says results are not actually visible until DOMS fades or no longer happens. If you’re new to working out, pay attention down the road to when you see a little bicep build or when your abs start to play peek-a-boo. It typically occurs when you experience little to no muscle soreness.

People who train infrequently or at random intensity levels often experience more soreness but see little or irregular growth. Simply put, this is because muscles aren’t sure how to react, so they can’t grow properly if there’s no consistency. Instead of focusing so much on feeling the good burn, think about your overall fitness improvements.

ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS:

  • Can you lift heavier weight and do more reps than when you started?
  • Are you able to push through a tough workout better than you used to? 
  • Are you becoming more toned?
  • Do your clothes feel looser? 

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then your fitness levels are improving regardless of muscle soreness.

BOTTOM LINE

The more you train, the less soreness you’ll feel, and vice versa. This doesn’t mean, however, that people who train more don’t experience DOMS. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that if you experience DOMS all of the time that you’re out of shape, because it also depends on the person. A safe rule of thumb to follow is to think of soreness as a result of your muscles reacting to something they’re not used to–this goes for everyone, whether you’re a body builder or a gym virgin.

You could be someone who works out five days a week, doing a mix of interval cardio and heavy weight-lifting, but maybe one day you decide to try a barre class. A couple days later, you’re most likely going to feel the effects of that barre class because you worked different muscles or the same muscles in different ways and your body is adapting to it.

If you’re a regular gym-goer, DOMS typically won’t be as intense and will last for shorter periods of time compared to someone who occasionally hits the gym or goes on a hike once in a while. In a nutshell, try to exercise regularly and pay attention to when workouts become too easy or are too difficult. You can still love that “good pain,” just don’t rely on it as an overall fitness test.