MUSCLE SORENESS — what’s the deal?
I often joke about my day 2 post ultra-soreness or long run soreness. This weekend I ran probably 18+ miles of downhill over 50 miles. My legs are as they say, “TRASHED”. But this soreness, despite popular belief, is not caused by lactic acid or going to result in muscle growth! If this is a common misconception, what actually causes muscle soreness then?
Muscle soreness is frequently caused by eccentric muscle contractions (slow lowering while lifting OR my downhill running) or novelty aka doing new movements. Which is another reason your fav fitspos “trick your body” new lift every week workouts are as effective as you think! And why you don’t need to be sore to have a good workout! When we exercise, our muscle fibers are broken down (that’s okay, this is good and necessary assuming we eat enough) and the repaired by protein from our diet.
So the soreness we feel, is simply an immune system response to muscle damage. When we exercise and break down muscle tissue, our body releases special inflammatory cells to localize at that muscle (this is also by being super sore causes us to retain water in that area). Then, all those special inflammatory cells put pressure on our sensory neurons, which register it as pain till the damage is cleared out. Thus, muscle soreness. This pain peaks about 2-3 days after our workout, which is what you may know as DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness. After that our bodies begin to repair and clears out the cellular debris and recover.
This is normal and necessary for adaptation, but only when it’s a small degree and we should not be “I can’t walk down the stairs” sore after every lift.
Overtime we should adapt to what we’re doing, and the pain will decrease! This is called the repeated bout effect. So if you go and do 3×10 bicep curls with 20 lbs this week and are sore, when you do it again next week you should not be sore or should be less sore. If over time, you move up to 3×10 at 25 lbs, but aren’t sore this doesn’t mean you aren’t making progress. This means your adapting, which is what we want!
And as always— all the flashy recovery gimmicks in the works will never replace the basics of giving your body the fuel and environment to recover in. You do not need to swan dive into foam rollers. Sleep, eat, stop training beyond your recoverable volume, get in adequate protein (0.6-1.0 g/lb/day) and hydrate.
And in situations like me post major event (a big race, a weightlifting meet, or anything similar)— TAKE TIME OFF. Sleep extra. Don’t decrease your kcals right away even though you’re moving less, you’re still using them to recover.
And as always — soreness doesn’t mean growth! If it did my downhill running would mean more gains than your lift. And we sure as heck don’t see body builders out here running downhill repeats ammi-rite? We still need to prioritize slowly lifting more, progressively, over time!