Why Am I So Sore?
You had a super workout. You challenged yourself and went beyond your usual limits. Well, you probably felt great after your session; congratulating yourself for getting through such a challenge. But how did you feel a day or two after that? Were your muscles sore? I mean, really sore. Like, you could hardly move your body you felt so stiff? You weren’t sore after the workout or the yoga class. It seemed like the soreness snuck up on you over night and you could hardly get yourself out of bed. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. It’s a common occurrence after strenuous exercise or when you use your body in a way that is different from your normal routine.
Although it is a fairly common experience, even among pro athletes, DOMS is a mysterious after-effect of muscle stress that science is still trying to explain. Even with the verdict still out on this one, let’s see if we can give it some meaning here so that you can have a better understanding of the condition and what to do about it.
Above And Beyond
If you regularly attend a yoga class, for example, with the same teacher and they have a consistent style in their classes, you probably leave your practice feeling pretty amazing with little muscle soreness. But what if it was your very first time taking a yoga class or you went to a different instructor for the first time, your experience may be completely different. Because you are stepping out of your comfort zone, your body gets stimulated in a way that is outside the norm. Moving your body into positions that are unfamiliar to you can create a strain to the muscles. Here’s an example, let’s say your instructor guides you into a very deep runner’s lunge. In the posture, you may have your hands on the floor. But let’s say the teacher has you place your elbows on the floor in this lunge instead. This will create a much deeper stretch in the inner thighs, especially if you hold it for several minutes. At the time, the stretch may feel great, but because of the demand on the newly or overly stretched muscles, it may result in soreness.
What’s Happening to an Overworked Muscle?
In the yoga pose example above, the deep lunge takes the muscle grouping in the legs further than usual. The result is definitely a stress to the body; science even states that it might be considered a “metabolic stress.” There are certainly chemical changes occurring in the body when the muscles are under stress, whether it’s from an unfamiliar deep stretch or pushing heavy weights in the gym. But as mentioned before, the evidence of what it is exactly is still in the laboratories. To put it very plainly, after an onslaught to those meager muscles, a chemical change occurs. A change that propels the body into a state of healing. In a sense, in strenuous exercise, you are essentially damaging muscle cells and other tissues in the body. The body however, wants to remedy that damage. Those few days after the challenging yoga class is the body in full response to the chemical change: 1) it is responding to the muscle damage resulting in pain and soreness, and 2) the body is moving into a state of repair.
How Do You Prevent DOMS?
Probably the only way to prevent this soreness is to not exercise at all or always move your body in the same way each time you go to the gym or yoga class. Over time, your body gets accustomed to the repetitive nature of the exercises. Your muscles are not being challenged to a new state, they can accommodate the same movements. This may result in no physical changes in the body. This is true if you’re trying to lose weight or put on some lean muscle mass. If you are doing the same exercises with the same intensity and the same weight, then your body does not change.
So, is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness Good?
There are several ways to answer that question. If you are a pretty active person and you enjoy your workouts with the intention of changing your body in some way, then you will most likely experience some soreness during your progression. When you are sore after a workout, it may be a positive sign to you that your body is changing. When muscle cells repair themselves naturally, it is gearing up for the next challenging workout so that it can withstand the new stress. That can be considered a good thing. But pay attention to this soreness and pain. If it is occurring too often or when the exercise is relatively easy, or other parts of your body feel compromised, then you may want to consult your doctor. There may be other things going on that are beyond the delayed muscle soreness.
Can I Make it Stop?
As mentioned, muscle soreness may be inevitable when it comes to exercise and stressing your body. So, if it is going to happen, what should you do to treat it when it occurs? You can do several things. If the soreness is pretty debilitating, then you may want to simply rest before you workout again. Remember, your body is in repair. Further, your muscles, especially the ones that you worked, are a little weak. Give them time, maybe a day or two, for the soreness to subside and for you to regain your strength. Do your best to stay motivated, though. Feeling sore can be a deterrent for some people; they may stay away from the gym or yoga studio because they don’t like the sensation of being muscularly stressed. Even if you’re feeling some discomfort when you return to the gym the next day, focus on another body part. If you maxed out those shoulders in your workout yesterday, then focus on your legs today. And when you go to your next yoga class, feel free to take it easy; there’s no need to completely stress your body. Ease up on your poses, modify the positions, don’t go as deep, or use props to support your yoga practice.
Overall, listen to your body and its needs. Your body and mind endure enough stress as it is. Use your workouts and yoga sessions as ways to take care of your body and mind. If that means slowing down, modifying, or taking a break, then honor that decision. Feel proud that you are doing something to nurture yourself when you take time off and allow your body to heal when it is feeling sore. Then you’ll feel great when you return to fulfilling your personal goals.