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Last week, I did a new workout at a new gym. And while it was challenging, it wasn’t completely awful.
“You’re going to be sore tomorrow,” my trainer promised me as I left. And I chuckled and headed off to the shops, thinking nothing more of it.
The next day was nothing short of torture. Everything hurt. Simple tasks, such as going to the loo, became monolithic events that were almost impossible – largely due to the fact that my leg muscles had given up on life completely. At one point, I face-planted into the bitumen while simply trying to walk down the street.
It was a bad day, followed by a slightly less bad day, during which I could move my legs, but could barely move my upper body.
It’s crazy how sore we can get after a tough workout. And I’ve never known exactly what should be done to try and avoid hobbling around for days after a particularly grueling run/Crossfit session/hot yoga class. Some people suggest more protein. Others say the secret is all in stretching.
I turned to the experts for their opinions on what makes us sore and what we can do to prevent it. I chatted to:
Katie Williams, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Exercise & Sports Science Australia; and Vix Erber (also known as Bondi Vixen), a Personal Trainer who was recently named one of the top 5 PT’s in Australia by Ultra Fitness Magazine.
Here’s what they had to tell me.
Why do we feel sore after a workout?
"Rolling out of bed with throbbing muscles proves yesterday’s workout was a challenge. Congrats!
Post-workout pain is called Exercise Induced Muscle Damage (EIMD). Sounds scary I know! That means you can thank the extra kilometres for that dead-leg feeling, or the extra kilos on the bench press for a sore chest.
When the pain limits strength (can’t stand!) or range of motion (can’t walk!), it’s best to take a hint from your body and give yourself a day or two off."
"It is normal to have some degree of soreness following exercise, particularly if you have had a break from exercise, change your exercise routine or dramatically increase your workout duration or intensity. The discomfort, tightness and pain you feel is thought to be the result of microscopic tearing of muscle fibres and associated swelling. However, your body has a great ability of repairing these muscle fibres – meaning you will get fitter and stronger over time.
Eccentric muscle contractions, where muscles need to forcefully contract during its lengthening phase, is strongly linked with muscle soreness. These eccentric movements may include walking/running down stairs, running or lunging down a hill and lowering weights (think during a bicep curl).
Delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) usually peaks 2-3 days after exercise. Generally, DOMS is a good thing as it is a sign that your body is adapting to exercise, and will lead to greater endurance, muscular strength and hypertrophy (tone)."
What can people do before a workout to minimise their chances of feeling sore the next day?
"Remember to WARM UP before every session. A general warm-up focusing on the body parts you are training may prepare muscles for harder work and slightly lessen the post-workout ouch!