If you are unaccustomed to exercise, or you increase the intensity you are training at, and you participate in a weights workout, the next few days will be marked by pain, stiffness and weakness in the muscle groups you have exercised. After a few days rest, the pain and tenderness will disappear. The next week, when you undertake another weights session at the same intensity, you will not feel as sore as you did the previous week. Why does this happen?
While it won’t make it easier to get out of bed the next morning, understanding why this is happening will help you to continue with your fitness goals. After a high-intensity workout that you are unaccustomed to, you will feel pain and tenderness in your muscles before of the damage you have done to them; however, there is no cause for alarm. In fact, you may have heard it explained as delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS. You have stimulated your muscles to grow bigger and stronger by producing micro-damage (micro-tears) in them.
The micro-tears in your muscle attract fluid which creates the swelling you may experience, and also the tenderness. Biochemical changes are also thought to contribute to the pain you feel by increasing neural sensitivity. The reason the pain is felt in the days following the workout is due to the inflammation and swelling causing continued damage to the muscle. This altered state of function lasts 2-5 days, with an increased resistance to damage protecting you from reoccurrences. So, this pain you feel will not occur the next time you participate in a training session, provided you do not let months pass between sessions.
An easy way to avoid the pain associated with muscle damage is to gradually increase your workload and ensure adequate rest periods between exercise sessions. While you may not be able to avoid the pain after your first session, the ones that follow will not be as bad.
As for some advice to help relieve the pain? Ensure you are able to rest for the few days after the workout and not be discouraged. The pain you feel is transient and will be as bad the next time round. Unfortunately, massage does not appear to impact on the speed of recovery, but it can decrease pain sensation. This is the same with light stretching or exercise – it can reduce the sensation of pain, but it only lasts for a little while. Cold water immersion has been said to aid in recovery, but not studies have produced substantial results. Vitamin supplementation has not produced any conclusive results either.