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It often occurs that you finish a workout and feel great, but the next day your body starts to ache and you dread hitting the gym the next day. This is not the right way to workout.

Do your muscles feel sore after a good workout?

Irrespective if your muscles are aching or not you need to continue your workout.

After a workout your muscles feel sore because they are damaged and need time to recover. This is called DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness; it occurs 8-24 hours after a workout and can take up to 72 hours to dissipate. DOMS is a natural occurrence for those who do not exercise on a regular basis or for those who resume activity after a long term of inactivity.

It is important to burn your muscles and then recover from the burn, this is known as stressing and recovering. Which is why athletes take a very hard workout on one day and then go easy for the next seven days, before taking on a hard workout again. Even world-class marathon runners run very fast only twice a week and professional weightlifters lift very heavy weights only once every two weeks.

What causes muscle pain and soreness after exercise?

One needs to remember that muscle pain and soreness is a part of an adaptation process that leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover.

One theory a few years ago suggested that the build up of lactic acid in the muscles after a workout was the main cause of soreness, but now it is known this is not the case. Lactic acid is quickly removed after an exercise session and does not remain in muscle tissue for very long.

Other theories suggest that;

  • Muscle soreness occurs because of microscopic tears in muscle fibres
  • It is caused due to tears in the tissue that connects the muscle not the muscle itself
  • The damaged muscles release chemical irritants, which irritate pain receptors.
  • The damaged muscles become inflamed hence causing soreness
  • Changes in osmotic pressure, muscle spasms and a change in the way the muscle cells regulate calcium may be responsible for the soreness.

Though the exact cause is yet to be identified these proposed theories are reported to be the most likely causes for this phenomenon.

The extent of tearing and the resulting soreness depends on a number of factors including, the type of exercise as well as the degree of difficulty. Usually, exercises involving eccentric muscle contractions, especially the ones that cause the muscle to contract quite forcefully, while it lengthens, have been observed to cause more muscle soreness.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • 1) McArdle, W.D., Katch, K.I. and V.L. Katch. Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition and Human Performance, 6th Ed. London: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2006, 549-552
  • 2) Nosaka, Ken (2008). "Muscle Soreness and Damage and the Repeated-Bout Effect". in Tiidus, Peter M. Skeletal muscle damage and repair. Human Kinetics
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