Post Workout Soreness; It’s not what you think

I hope that the wheels are turning and that you’re brimming with ideas for your first meal prep after yesterday’s post. We’ve been over a lot of organizational information in the past few days so I am going to take an intermission of sorts and review a common misconception related to fitness.

If you’ve gone to the gym, attempted an at home workout, or maybe even attended a boot camp or other class, you’ve probably experienced the famed next day soreness that comes from exercise. What you probably don’t know is it’s source.

Most commonly, you’re told or hear that the soreness you’re experiencing is lactic acid. This could not be more inaccurate!

Lactic acid, also known as lactic acidosis, is not the cause of your muscle fatigue. It is not the reason your muscles “burn” during exercise and it’s not the cause of your next day soreness.

When you exercise, your muscles undergo a series of chemical reactions. A significant amount of the chemical adenosine-triphosphate is both released and created as the body attempts to consume and produce energy. As this occurs, protons are released and muscle fatigue ensues. This means that the muscle fatigue you experience is not a result of lactic acid build up but rather a result of the protons released as the lactic acid is processed to be consumed for energy. Lactic acid is a by-product, not a cause, of muscle fatigue and the signature “burn” you feel.

Furthermore, it only takes around 15 minutes for the lactate presence to return to pre workout state, so even if it were the cause of the burning sensation, it would not be responsible for the next day soreness as it isn’t present at that time unless you are working those same muscles again.

So if that’s not the cause of your next day soreness, what is? The exact cause is not known but it is referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. One suspected explanation, however, is that the eccentric lengthening of the muscles causes micro-trauma that leads to soreness until the trauma has recovered in 48-72 hours. The muscles adapt after that type of trauma and soreness is less likely to occur until a new muscle pattern is utilized.

While nothing is going to eliminate DOMS, there are things you can do to alleviate it. Myofascial release, also known as foam rolling, can help stimulate blood flow to those areas and aid in relief. Light stretching can help as well. In more extreme cases, ice may be used but keep in mind that small, isolated areas that require ice for pain relief may actually be acute injuries and not just DOMS.

Remember that soreness does not always equal a good workout, and lack of it doesn’t denote a bad workout either. Each workout is a different experience and so is each recovery. When you experience DOMS, it is suggested that you wait until the soreness has mostly passed before working that muscle group again although opinions on this vary. Listen to your body, you know it best.

This topic is so broad and there is such a deeper explanation behind it. It is difficult to condense it all into one article without making it an entire chapter so if you have any other questions, as always, contact me. Now go make some muscles hurt!


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