Don't Be a Sore Loser
Delayed muscle soreness. It's the name
of the stiff pain you feel as you roll over and reach to turn off the morning
alarm after a day in which you trained unusually hard or tried a new exercise.
Some people feel there's no better
reward; others cease to exercise. What everyone should know is that there is a
way to prevent this muscle soreness.
What causes sore muscles?
There are two types of exercise-related
muscle soreness. Immediate muscle soreness quickly dissipates and is the pain
you feel during, or immediately after, exercise.
Delayed muscle soreness signals a
natural adaptive process that the body initiates following intense exercise. It
manifests 24 to 48 hours after the exercise session and spontaneously decreases
after 72 hours.
Numerous studies have been conducted to
determine the cause of delayed muscle soreness, and the theories have been many
and controversial. The most current research attributes it to microscopic tears
in the muscle and surrounding connective tissue following eccentric exercise.
Those who experience delayed muscle
soreness include conditioned individuals who increase the intensity, frequency
or duration of their workouts, or participate in an activity that they are
unfamiliar with. Beginning exercisers, or those who have undergone a significant
lapse in training,frequently experience soreness when starting a new exercise
Studies on the best methods to
alleviate delayed muscle soreness are almost as abundant as the number of
studies conducted to determine its cause.
Cryotherapy (the topical application of
ice), massage, stretching, and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs),
among other less conventional approaches, have been tested to determine if they
can prevent delayed muscle soreness or are effective treatments. To date, no
therapy that hastens the decrease of delayed muscle soreness has been found,
however some of the therapies previously mentioned may have a minor impact if
initiated immediately after intense or unusual exercise.
The good news
Once you induce delayed onset muscle
soreness at a specific exercise intensity, you shouldn't experience that
sensation again until intensity is increased.
This is because delayed muscle soreness
has been shown to produce a rapid adaptation response, which means that the
muscles adapt to an exercise intensity. Until it is changed, soreness won’t
This is the basis for the most widely
recommended approach to preventing delayed muscle soreness: Gradual progression
and conservative increases in intensity, frequency or duration. Preliminary
light exercise may prevent the onset of soreness following a heavy eccentric
Beginners should exercise with light
weights, two to three times per week for one or two months, then gradually
build. Already-conditioned exercisers who want to try a new workout or sport
also should begin gradually, taking care not to be overzealous.
Feeling a little eccentric?
A muscle contracts eccentrically when
it lengthens under tension during exercise. For example, during a biceps curl,
the biceps muscle shortens during the concentric lifting phase and lengthens
during the eccentric lowering phase.
Eccentric contractions also can occur
during aerobic activity, such as downhill running, in which the quadriceps
muscle repeatedly lengthens against gravity to lower the center of mass and aid
in shock absorption.