Post Workout Muscle Soreness: Normal or Cause for Alarm

In 1982, Jane Fonda coined the phrase, “no pain, no gain,” during her series of aerobic workout videos, and since then fitness gurus and gym enthusiasts across the country have heeded its wisdom – in order to properly workout, you need to “feel the burn.” But is that really true? In many areas of our life, we’re taught that pain is not normal and it’s a sign that we might need some form of intervention or even medical attention, but is the same true for post-workout muscle soreness?

Is post-workout muscle soreness normal?

The short answer? Some post-workout muscle soreness can be expected, especially if you’re trying a new activity, working a new area of your body, or even if you’re new to exercise. Most people will typically get sore the second day after a workout, a phenomenon known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS typically occurs anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after a workout and the soreness will be at its worst around day two or three, post-workout. After the third day, post-workout, most people with DOMS report finding relief from their muscle soreness. By day four, you should be already returned to normal activities.

Those who experience DOMS can expect muscle tenderness, muscle fatigue, a short-term loss of muscle strength, or even a little swelling. While irritating, DOMS is actually a good sign that you’ve been engaged in quality exercise that is building your muscles. When you perform high-intensity exercise, small, microscopic tears can form in your muscle fibers. These tears send signals to the rest of your body that you need more muscle where the tears form, thus building muscle in those areas. Unfortunately, those tears can also lead to inflammation, which is where our soreness comes from.

How can I prevent post-workout muscle soreness?

Sometimes post-workout soreness is unavoidable, but there are ways to minimize some pain.

“The biggest thing is to start off slow,” said licensed and certified athletic trainer, Tina Keasey of TPMG Strive Fitness and Sports Performance in Williamsburg. If you’re starting a new fitness regimen, start off with smaller, more achievable goals and then slowly work your way up to a higher-intensity workout. For example, if you’re looking to do more cardio and you can only run a mile, don’t add another mile on top all at once. Make slow progressions to where you want to be. One rule of thumb is to follow the 10 percent rule, which implies that weekly training load increases should not exceed 10% per week. The same works for weights. If you’re typically squatting 30 pounds, you don’t want to immediately grab a 40-pound weight. Instead, try a 32 or 35-pound weight next.

Additionally, the more consistent you are with your workouts or fitness regimen, the less likely you should be getting sore. Your body will start to adapt to the repeated exercise and improve. A good warm-up and cool-down will also prevent some muscle soreness. Just like warming up your car on a cold day, a warm-up will prepare you for future exercise. Something as simple as a short run on the treadmill and some dynamic stretching will prime your body for future work. You’ll know you’ve done a good job warming up when you begin to sweat.

Proper hydration will help prevent post-workout muscle soreness. Studies from the National Institutes of Health have found that dehydration results in significant increases in core body temperature and muscle temperature which can contribute to DOMS. Be sure to drink water before, during, and after your workout to limit your muscle soreness.

If you’re just starting a new workout regimen or adding exercise to your normal workout routine, don’t be discouraged by post-workout muscle soreness, and make sure you listen to your body. Not all pain is beneficial. During your workouts, make mental notes of what feels good, what feels bad, and where your limits might be. Think of your fitness journey as a marathon rather than a sprint and make it enjoyable! For help finding the right fitness regimen for you, talk to a certified athletic trainer with TPMG Strive Fitness and Sports Performance. Don’t let some soreness get in the way of your goals.

Tina E. Keasey, ATC/L, CSCS

About Tina Keasey, ATC/L, CSCS

Tina Keasey, ATC/L, CSCS is a licensed and certified athletic trainer with the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) and the Virginia Board of Medicine. She is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Throughout her career, she has worked with the 2001 Junior Olympics, 2003 Senior Olympics, several semi-professional soccer and basketball players, as well as NCAA track and field champions. She looks forward to helping clients at TPMG Strive Fitness and Sports Performance find the right fitness routine to fit their lifestyle, as she believes it is an integral part of living your fullest life.

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