While climbing (or descending) the stairs after leg day can be a grueling task, there’s nothing more painfully satisfying than when post-workout muscle soreness hits. It gives the sense of accomplishment and confirmation that you put into the work.
On the other hand, if you’ve ever wondered if your pain could be an injury, you’re not alone. After all, when DOMS sets in, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two.
Luckily, there are surefire ways to reassure yourself post-workout that your pain is strictly about killing it in the gym to know when it’s time to take some RICE.
Here’s Why You Feel Muscle Soreness After Workout
Exercise and pain go hand in hand and are a completely normal post-workout event. “When your muscles are sore after physical activity, it’s called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS,” says Tony Horton, creator of Power Life and P90X. “It’s extremely common and can happen when you start a new exercise program, change your exercise routine, or increase the duration or intensity of your regular workout.” He says.
So what is causing this so painful pain? Tiny tears in your muscle fibers. Sure, it may feel like an injury, but this process is what propels your fitness goals forward. “When muscles have to work harder or in a different way than they are used to, it causes small, microscopic tears in muscle fibers,” says Horton. This is why the pain is felt within the muscle groups that have recently been used; yet, you remain injury-free.
“This process is actually a good thing; That means your muscles are growing,” says Horton, and isn’t that the point? Although this is where all kinds of pain and stiffness come in, your body works hard to repair and rebuild muscle tissue, which makes you stronger.
What “normal” muscle pain looks like and how long can it last
As you already know, there are levels of post-exercise muscle soreness ranging from mild tenderness to the classic bluster of soreness in the gym. Horton explains that your muscles can feel sore, tense, and tender to the touch post-workout, and you can also feel it in your joints.
“Moving around and lifting can be a bit hairy for a while, so listen to your body.” He advises. And while it may be tempting to hit the gym and work through that pain, it’s not always a good idea. “Do not force anything by pain; let your body rest,” says Horton. “The pain can last anywhere from one to four days, depending on how intense your activity is compared to what your muscles are used to, as well as your body’s natural ability to recover and repair muscle tissue,” says Horton.
All that muscle swelling, tenderness, stiffness, pain – it all sounds scary, but keep in mind that it’s the body’s normal response to strenuous activity. “The key is to arm yourself with all the tools you need to be able to repair and rebuild,” says Horton.
These include adequate nutrition with a high quality protein source, adequate sleep, dynamic stretching, and long rest periods between workouts using the same major muscle groups. groups (at least one full day off).
As you train more and you change workouts to induce what Horton calls muscle confusion. “You will notice that the pain periods may be longer or shorter depending on the difference or intensity of training, compared to what your muscles are used to,” he says.
Skeletal muscles are highly dynamic tissues that adapt to cope with the increased movement and metabolic demands of exercise. So they can handle it, even if it hurts to get out of bed the next morning.
Here’s how to spot an injury (and what to do about it)
Our body does a good job of telling us when something needs special attention. And when it comes to a possible exercise-induced injury, there are a few tell-tale signs that take the guesswork out of the equation (or pain for that matter).
The D in DOMS stands for “delayed,” which means the pain doesn’t happen right away; you usually start to feel it the next day. “You can tell the difference between DOMS and a legitimate injury, like when you pull a muscle and the pain is immediate, it’s sharp, and it doesn’t go away after a few days,” says Horton. Simply put, there’s a difference between the aching soreness you feel after a workout with a peak in pain a few hours after the workout, and pain that comes on immediately and is long lasting.
“If an injury is the case, you need to STOP all activity and have it checked out, or at least give it enough time to heal,” he advises.
“Pain tells you something, so don’t ignore it,” he says. Again, it is best to stop all physical activity immediately. “Don’t try to be a badass and finish your training; Putting pressure on an injury will only make it worse and keep you out longer,” says Horton. Raise your hand if you’ve done exactly that in the past!
The first thing Horton tells people is to listen to your body, if something is wrong, stop doing it. “Beyond that, if you’re injured, use ice to reduce swelling and inflammation, and rest so your muscles can heal,” says Horton.
And if the pain persists, go and have it examined by a specialist. “Don’t let it last longer than two days if you feel it could be something serious,” he says. Prevention is better than cure, and better to take some time to heal than to push it through the gym and have to take more time on the road.
How to deal with muscle pain
Stretching before and after workouts, then pampering your muscles between workouts with modalities such as massage, will increase blood flow to muscle groups and aid in the recovery of torn muscle tissue.
Beyond that, “alternating between ice and heat to reduce inflammation and increase circulation, in conjunction with certain natural compounds, helps speed up the recovery process.” said Horton. In Horton’s High Impact Protein, it includes an amazing compound called HMB, which helps your muscles synthesize protein better, as well as helping your muscles recover faster from physical activity, reducing your period of soreness.
Good to know:
An often overlooked aspect of muscle soreness is simply basic body mechanics: what do you do when you’re not working out? What is your posture? When we sit in front of the computer for hours or stand in line at the grocery store, good posture keeps our spine healthy and also reduces stress on our muscles, ligaments and joints, which will help limit pain.