It’s a new week. Congratulations! You’re still here! Did you start moving yet? Whether you have or whether you haven’t (don’t wait for me, start moving!), there’s some things you should know right from the start. I know you want to start exercising, but I feel that I have to mention at least one thing first so it doesn’t come as a surprise to you.
If you’re not used to exercising, you’re going to get sore. If you over-do it, you’re going to get really sore. You’re using muscles that haven’t been exercised in a while, so soreness occurs. While being sore isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience, I’m going to ask you to embrace it. Wear it as a badge of honor. It means you did what you set out to do – work hard!
From a scientific point of view, soreness is called delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS. It’s called delayed-onset because the worst of it seems to occur 24 to 72 hours after you exercise. You’ve probably heard someone say that this is the result of lactic acid building up and irrating the muscle cells. While it’s true that lactic acid can build up in your muscles after exercise, it isn’t the reason why you get sore. The exact cause of DOMS has yet to be identified.
Every time you perform a weight-bearing activity (i.e., lifting weights or doing body weight exercises), the muscles receive microtears in the cells. These muscle cells then rebuild themselves and become stronger to guard against more microtears. It takes a couple of days for the cells to rebuild themselves, which is why you shouldn’t perform weight-bearing exercises on the same muscles on back-to-back days. Give your muscles time to rebuild and you’ll become a little bit stronger every time you exercise. The more intense your workout, the more time you need for your cells to recover.
Not only will your muscles rebuild, but your body will start rewiring itself, adding new arteries, veins and nerve cells. This rewiring, or adaptation, process occurs because your body recognizes that the exercised muscle in question needs more oxygen and nutrients and will reorganize itself to provide whatever the muscle needs to get stronger to perform the work. With consistent exercise, your body can adapt itself starting about 30 days after you start an exercise program. (I’ve also read research that says 6 – 8 weeks. Bottom line – it takes a little time.) Before your body goes through all this extensive remodeling work, it wants to make darn sure that you really are going to continue to exercise and that this activity isn’t just a one or two time thing.
Since your muscle cells receive damage while exercising, it is thought that they release certain unidentified chemicals. Between the damage done from microtearing and the release of these chemicals, this is what is believed to cause DOMS.
Regardless of what exactly causes DOMS, the home remedies to help ease the pain are the same. A hot bath or sauna can usually help. It won’t make the underlying muscles recover faster, but it may make you feel better.
Massages are wonderful as they can help get the offending chemicals out of your muscles. Be sure to drink plenty of water after a massage to help eliminate those chemicals so they don’t go on to irritate some other part of your body or make you feel nauseous.
I have this hard foam roller at home, which I roll my body over to massage my muscles. Not only can they massage sore muscles and increase blood circulation, but they can release tight muscles and tissues under the skin that can restrict full muscle movement. They cost around $10 – $15. Make sure you buy one that comes with a DVD or pamphlet that tells you how to use it properly. Just like a regular massage, make sure you drink plenty of water afterwards.
Rest is another important factor. Sleep time is when your body recovers from everything you do in a day, not just working out. If you don’t get enough sleep, it could cause your muscle soreness to seem more intense.
While it may not make initial sense, doing light exercise like walking can help you recover faster. This gets your blood flowing faster to the affected areas, bringing healing nutrients along with it.
If you absolutely over-did it, and can barely move, something like aspirin or Aleve may help alleviate the pain. However, I don’t think it’s a good idea to always reach for the aspirin for every little ache and pain. You’ll know when you over-do it. Use medications wisely.
Main message here – you’re going to get sore. Just expect it. So, take it easy when you first start to exercise. Getting in shape is a marathon, not a sprint. When you begin, perform an exercise 8 to 10 times (i.e., repetitions) for 2 or 3 sets (i.e., the number of times you perform those 8 to 10 repetitions). Wait 2 or 3 days and see how you feel. Are you sore at all? If the answer is no, then increase the number of repetitions of that exercise or add more sets. If you’re still not sore, keep upping the ante until you do become a little sore.
If you begin as I explained above and you can barely move two days later, then don’t exercise again until the pain is at a dull roar. Your body needs to recover, so give it time. Then exercise again, but with fewer sets of the exercise. The goal is to work hard enough that you are just a little bit sore in two days. The idea is not to be so sore that you can’t function, it’s just sore enough to know that you actually worked the muscle. I’ve come to love that level of soreness. It means that I’ve worked hard enough for my muscles to get stronger. There will come a day when you don’t get sore at all. Those are the days that make me nervous because I feel like I didn’t work hard enough!
So, expect to get sore and embrace it. It will get better, I promise. The worst thing you could do is get sore, and then give up because this soreness business sucks. This is why I wanted to warn you right from the beginning to expect this.
Little story… my first time in the gym, I worked out my legs. While I was working out, the exercises didn’t feel that difficult, so I kept going. I’ve been playing volleyball for years, so I thought my physical condition wasn’t too bad. The weight room at my gym is on the second floor. After my workout, I tried to walk down the steps to leave and about fell down the stairs. I took the first step down and my knees just gave out on me. My legs felt like jello. Here I am, stuck on the stairs, feeling like an idiot. Thankfully, no one was around. I ended up hopping down the steps, one at a time, because I was sure that if I tried to bend my knees again, I’d tumble, face first, down the steps.
Given how I felt right after my workout, you can imagine how sore I was two days later. I was begging for morphine! But I never quit. I never thought about quiting. I just decided to go easier the next time and knew that it would get better with time. And it did. So, don’t you quit, either! Knowing what to expect and how to start slowly should help ease the pain a little.
Until tomorrow, just remember… there are no excuses when it comes to your health!