Muscle Soreness and Why It Could be A Bad Sign


This may seem a little weird, but it’s true. Muscle soreness isn’t the end all be all of a good workout. Most people, beginners especially, assume that a good workout means being sore for days. And that if you aren’t sore it means you aren’t working hard enough. Well, we can put an end to all those thoughts because it’s B.S. Let’s debunk this idea, and dive into what exactly is muscle soreness and why being sore all the time might actually be a bad sign.

What is Muscle Soreness?

So you may have found that muscle soreness usually shows up about 2-3 days after your workout (delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS), and this is totally normal. It takes your body a few days to recognize the injuries and to produce the inflammation necessary to repair the damage. What’s interesting with muscle soreness is that it doesn’t happen every time you workout, and it shouldn’t. Certain types of exercises are going to cause more damage than others, but there are also a few other things that come into play that cause muscle soreness.

Let’s first break down the fact that there are two types of muscle soreness – acute and DOMS.

Acute muscle soreness is felt immediately after exercise and is caused from a build up of lactic acid during exercise. This soreness typically goes away almost immediately after exercise.

DOMS is delayed onset muscle soreness and is caused by tiny mirco-tears to the muscle fibers and surrounding connective tissues.

It is possible to get both types of soreness after starting a new training program or trying a new exercise – but it should not be a symptom after every single workout. Here are a few reasons you might be getting DOMS more often..

Muscle Soreness Causes

How often you train

If you are someone who works out regularly, you know that muscle soreness can come and go depending on the type of exercises you are doing and how frequently you do them. For example – if you are just starting your journey, almost everything is going to make you sore. This is because your body is not used to the stress you are putting it under and therefore the fibers are going to tear more easily until you build up the stamina.

Muscle soreness can also occur if you over do it or overtrain. This means that the intensity or duration you put your body under was just too much, and you aren’t giving yourself enough time to recover between workouts. This is where muscle soreness is not a good sign. You have to be taking rest days in order to allow those miro-tears to heal and the inflammation to go away!

What type of training you are doing

Any type of exercise can cause muscle soreness, but there are a few specifics that can cause it to be worse, or more prevalent.

Eccentric exercises are what cause the most mirco-tears. This is because of the time the muscle is under tension during the lengthening phase. So the “lowering” or the movement such as going down in the squat, lowering a bicep curl or lowering a pull-up are what eccentric movements are. Any exercise that you increase the time the muscle is under tension is going to cause more inflammation and muscle fiber tears.

It doesn’t have to be just lifting weights though. Things like running down a hill or high tension cycling can do it too!

Internal health

There are a few key factors in your internal health that may cause you to not recover as quickly as you should. Diet is one. If you are not eating an adequate diet of 1. nutrient dense foods and 2. ENOUGH of it, then you are going to experience muscle soreness for much longer. This is because your body doesn’t have enough energy and calories to repair the damaged tissue!

Hormones can also play a big part in muscle soreness as well. Research shows that estrogen can actually help stimulate muscle repair and decrease damage done. So ladies, this is great for you! And guys, I’m sorry. Although men do have some estrogen, it’s not enough to regenerate muscle tissue as fast as women.


Bad Signs of Muscle Soreness

If you find yourself sore after every workout, or all the time, it is definitely a bad sign. You should not be sore all the time – soreness should only come around when you are trying new exercises, increasing intensity a lot or just starting out on your exercise journey. If muscle soreness continues for 5-7 days and does not let up it could be a sign of:

• Over training (not giving yourself enough time between workouts)

• Poor nutrition (not eating enough nutrient dense foods, especially protein)

• Lack of sleep (your body regenerates at night, if you aren’t getting adequate amounts of sleep this can cause prolonged soreness)

• Injury (if you are sore for a long period of time, it could mean a minor injury has occurred. Make sure you are icing the sore spot, getting a lot of fluids in and eating anti-inflammatory foods)

How to Relieve Muscle Soreness

So now that we know muscle soreness occurs after different types of workouts, and shouldn’t continue on for an extended period of time…there are ways we can relieve the acute soreness! Let’s not forget that everyone is different, so what works for one person might not work for everyone – so be sure to take an individual approach.

• Eating anti-inflammatory foods

• Eat plenty of protein

• Take epsom salt bath

• Drink water and electrolytes

• Foam rolling

• Walking/Movement

All of these have been known to decrease soreness by decreasing inflammation within the body. Just remember that muscle soreness, or DOMS, should not continue for longer than 7 days. If it does, see a doctor or physical therapist because a bigger injury may have occurred!

Muscle soreness is not always a sign of a “good” workout, and just because you aren’t sore doesn’t mean you need to be pushing it harder. Soreness is a sign of new exercises that your body is not used to, so as that stimulus starts to become more familiar your body will adapt!


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Haley Rowe September 27, 2019