Sore muscles…what does it mean?

Sore muscles…what does it mean

Here are two myths regarding sore muscles:

“Getting sore means you had a good and effective workout.”

If this were true then anything that caused soreness and pain in your muscles would mean you stimulated muscle growth. Boy I wish it was that simple. To be honest there is quiet some debate as to what exactly causes normal sore muscles…we know there is some inflammation and some potential buildup of lactic acid but other than that we really aren’t too sure. Any exercise or routine outside your normal training can cause soreness. I train my body with weights on a very regular basis and at an advanced level but if I were to go swim for a mile I can assure you I would be sore the next day. Does this mean that the swim stimulated more strength and muscle growth than my regular weight training workouts? Nope…not at all. The only way to tell if a workout is effective is your PROGRESS, plain and simple. Are you progressing?? If the answer is “yes” then congratulations you are training effectively. If the answer is “no” then I am sorry to tell you that what you are doing is not working regardless of how sore you get.

“Sore muscles should never be trained…doing so will overtrain them.”

Sounds intuitive right? It seems reasonable that training a sore muscle will result in more damage thus prolonging recovery. There is a nugget of truth in this but it mainly applies to INTENSITY. Low intensity exercise actually speeds up and facilitates recovery. The absolute most catabolic (muscle wasting) thing you can do in your life is NOT MOVE. Lay in bed for a week without getting up and you will deteriorate at an alarming rate…muscles will shrink and your athletic performance will decline tremendously. If your muscles are sore DO NOT become sedentary to try to speed up recovery. Instead do low intensity full range of motion exercises and stretches to the affected area and not only will you recover faster but you will also prioritize muscle adaptation…in other words your muscle will get stronger and bigger faster.

So what does soreness tell us then?? EXCESSIVE soreness tells us that you over-applied INTENSITY. Rarely does it mean you trained too frequently. It means you trained too damn hard. Excessive soreness is the “I can barely walk” kind of soreness. Too much intensity can also be dangerous. A condition known as rhabdomyolysis can occur in which excessive muscle damage creates so much waste product (creatinine kinase for example) that certain organs (kidneys typically) can not keep up with the waste removal process and they fail, sometimes causing death. Some exercise programs actually brag that this happens with their systems as if it is a badge of honor! What stupidity!!

It is far easier to create excessive damage with an over-application of intensity that it is with frequency. Focus on adjusting your intensity if you experience excessive soreness…bring it down a notch or two. Intensity is very individual as well…the right amount of intensity for one person can be too much or too little for another. When in doubt, work out with less intensity but with more frequency for more consistent progress.


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