You know that feeling the day after a hard workout, when you can’t wash your own hair because your shoulders are too sore? You think, “It’ll get better from here,” but then it hurts even worse the next day. Hello, DOMS! Is that you? All jokes aside, most of us understand that our bodies experience some wear and tear. But still, there are moments we can’t help but wonder: Why are my muscles so sore?
Let’s talk about exactly what this pain is and what causes sore muscles.
Why Are My Muscles So Sore?
Let’s begin at the beginning.
What Causes Soreness in Muscles?
To put it very simply, muscle soreness is the result of putting your body under stress.
What’s “stressful” for one body might not be for the next. But generally, strength/resistance training is the biggest culprit. High reps will get you sore. Heavy weights will get you sore.
When you do intense strength or resistance training, you create micro-tears in your muscles. These micro-tears, once they’ve healed, are what make your muscles bigger and stronger. But before that happens, your body produces inflammation, and that’s what causes sore muscles after exercise.
Because it can take a day or two for this inflammation to set in, that’s why you don’t immediately feel sore.
You now know that the type of training you’re doing can cause muscle soreness. The frequency of your training is another factor. If you’re new to fitness, you’ll likely experience a great deal of soreness in the beginning. This is because training is a brand new stimulus for you. Your body isn’t yet used to it.
Perhaps ironically, there’s an inverse relationship here. The longer and more consistently you train, the less frequently you’ll experience muscle soreness. Your threshold increases and it’ll take more to trigger that post-workout pain. But still, if you’re used to a 45-minute training session and then randomly hit the gym for three hours, you’re going to feel it.
Of course, there are other factors — like hormones and age. Younger athletes notoriously heal faster, because their bodies are simply better at taking a beating and then snapping back.
There are a number of other variables that play a role in muscle soreness — ones that come into play more so after your training. Let’s talk about those next.
What Helps With Sore Muscles?
Let’s say that you hit the deadlifts a little too hard or do one too many laps in the community pool. What can you do after your training to reduce the amount of time you spend in pain?
Dial in Your Nutrition
You already know that your nutrition is a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting healthier and fitter, so we won’t go there.
But did you know that you can design your nutrition specifically to improve the recovery process? For example, tart cherry juice might work in your favor. Research suggests that it can reduce inflammation, decrease pain, and help fight muscle damage.
Curcumin (a naturally-occurring compound most commonly found in turmeric) is another. Research says that it might reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and enhance recovery.
There are many, many others, including bananas, eggs, cottage cheese, coffee, and salmon. It might take a little trial and error to see what specifically has the most positive impact on you. However, the point is to remember that what you put in your mouth 100% has an effect on how your body feels and functions.
Optimize Your Recovery Strategy
We want to reiterate what we said earlier: Experiences will vary from person to person. So, you need to try different things to see what helps you heal faster.
That being said, recovery is a non-negotiable, and growing research suggests that active recovery is far more powerful than plopping down on the couch for the next few days — however tempting that might be.
Active recovery means low-intensity, non-strenuous movement. This could be going for a walk, a low-key yoga session, an easy swim, or a leisurely 10 minutes on the rower. Passive recovery means limiting or stopping movement.
The goal is to get more blood flowing to those muscles and improve circulation, because this will help them heal. If you’re not moving, this process will happen much more slowly.
It might seem counterproductive: Won’t movement aggravate already sore muscles? No, not if it’s proper active recovery.
Of course, there is an exception, and that’s when your soreness is so extreme that even active recovery could put you at risk of a legitimate injury, like a tear or strain.
It’s hard to define exactly how it feels to hit this point. But generally, if your muscles are so sore that it’s literally hard to move them at all, consider giving it another day before you get going on active recovery, and reevaluate then. In the meantime, you might be better off with gently rolling out or giving yourself a light massage.
There’s another option, too.
With electric muscle stimulation, you can speed up the recovery process no matter what level your soreness is at. PowerDot is a natural, pain-free way to improve circulation, boost mobility, increase muscle strength, and overall, help you get back to your training sooner, feeling better than ever. So, not only will you return to your fitness programming healed, but you’ll be more prepared to tackle whatever the day throws at you.
Plus, you can use our Smart TENS programming to target your specific pain and design a program customized for you. We understand that a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Input your specific details — pain type, intensity, etc. — into the PowerDot app, and let our algorithms take it from there. Track your pain levels over time to monitor your progress.
Muscle soreness is normal and to be expected. And remember, you can manage and influence it. Now that you know what causes sore muscles and how you can address them, you can take your fitness to a new level.
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Learn more about how to use a TENS unit properly.