April 09, 2009

Sore Muscles?

Image credit: euskalanato

On our cross country trip, we started off pretty well with our exercise plan: the "Semiconsistent Portable Exercise Workout." (Hey maybe we'll turn it into a lucrative workout video some day! "You too can SPEW, for only $19.99 plus shipping and handling! Call now! ). This plan consisted of doing calisthentics at rest stops, going for runs and walks, and buying day-passes at local gyms along the way.

But true to form, by the end of our trip we were seriously slacking. "Screw it, it's a pain, and we'll be home soon enough!" became our cheerful exercise slogan.

Helpful Coaching Tip: if you're considering crafting a motivational exercise slogan of your own, phrases such as "Just Do It!" "Yes, I Can!" or "I'll Be So Glad Afterwards!" tend to outperform "Screw It, It's a Pain."

Then we got back to Provincetown, and due to laziness and procrastination logistical issues, it took us another week or two to get signed up at the gym again.

So when I finally went for my first serious strength training workout in several weeks? I was sore! And not just a little sore. I was extremely, hilariously, can't-sit-down-on-the-toilet, it-hurts-to-brush-my-hair, "ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow" sore.

It was so awesome.

Being a fairly unambitious, non-perfectionist type, I don't often push myself hard enough, or mix up my routine enough, to get seriously sore. So when I do (even if it's just because I took a break and I'm not doing anything heroically difficult), it makes me feel smug and happy. I love feeling sore from a workout, even though I may express this love by moaning and groaning and whining about the pain.

But my bubble was burst when I read a post by the awesome, energetic Shelley at A Forty-Something Weight Loss Journey. She wondered if she was doing something wrong because she wasn't getting quite as sore after every workout as she used to now that she was in better shape.

And I thought, wait, are we supposed to be getting sore after every workout? That's just too much work, and too much soreness. It ain't gonna happen here in CrankyLand.

(I'm back! Did you notice I was gone? I just had an idea for a future blog post that would be the old board game CandyLand made up instead to be CrankyLand! Instead of cute candy canes and gingerbread houses there would be stalks of broccoli and piles of brown rice and tedious exercise machines and ice packs for your knees and it wouldn't be any fun to win, but at least if you won you'd be alive at the end and not dead of a heart attack like the losers! So I went off and googled to find a mock-up of the CandyLand board... but then, dang it, I remembered: Crabby you don't have a clue how to do photoediting! And so that pretty much killed off the CrankyLand idea and now here I am again. Did you miss me? )

Anyway, I suspect a lot of you hardcores DO work out intensely enough to get sore really frequently. But for a lot of us, it's more of an occasional occurrence, triggered by coming back after periods of slackitude or reading an article about some cool new exercise and trying it (and then abandoning it). Oh yeah, and yard work. But it's not, like, all the time that we're sore.

So are slackers like me missing the boat by not exercising to the point of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness more often? Do you need to be sore to build muscles?

Well, after googling for a few minutes conducting extensive scholarly research and interviewing dozens of physiology experts, I'm still not sure.

That's because most articles about muscle soreness seem to be coming from a different place. Either:

1. Telling people how not to get sore in the first place;

2. Telling people how to feel less miserable if they do get sore; or,

3. Reassuring beginners that they are not going to die of sore muscles, so that said beginners don't abandon exercise entirely and become couch potatoes again.

But nowhere could I find a recommendation on how often we should be trying to get sore. Being a notorious slacker, I'm going to take this to mean we don't have to try! But anyone who actually knows something about the subject, please feel free to leave helpful information to the contrary in the comments.

So what did I learn about muscle soreness generally? Well, advice varied.

How to avoid Muscle Soreness:

1. Warm up before you exercise and cool down afterwards.

2. Don't try to go from slothful slug to Superhero in a few weeks. Big changes in your exercise routine lead to soreness.

3. Go easy on eccentric muscle contractions. (And no, they don't mean "eccentric" as bizarre and weird, although depending on where you work out you may want to go easy on those too). They mean movements like running downhill, lowering weights, doing negatives, and generally stressing the muscle while it's lengthening rather than when its contracting.

However, I'd say ignore tip #3 because then you couldn't do things like push-ups or squats or dips, and you'd be missing out on negatives, a strength training trick that helps many people break through plateaus. So you may want to do eccentric exercises anyway and just suck it up and get sore afterwards.

How to Make Sore Muscles Feel Better:

1. Ice

2. Compression

3. Ibuprofen

4. Some say gentle massage; others say, meh, doesn't really help.

5. Do some easy low-impact exercise

6. Drink coffee

and hell, I'd add: Enjoy a nice therapeutic glass of wine or a potent cocktail. You're muscles may still hurt but you won't really give a crap!

So do you guys get sore pretty often from working out? Like it or hate it? Any helpful home remedies?


  1. My personal idea on soreness is that you SHOULD NOT be getting sore after EVERY workout, although when beginning a new routine or adding weights, a little soreness is to be expected. DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) is a product of microtears in the muscle, so if you're constantly killing yourself in your workouts, you could be doing more damage than good. But, hey, that's just my 2 cents.


  2. I don't believe in anything more than a very mild soreness. If I think that a specific workout will lead to real soreness, I don't do it.


  3. I've forgotten what it's like to not be sore! I try to rotate the various activities I like or feel I need to do, but so many muscles, so little time :-)

    Maybe if I didn't believe in soreness it would go away..you think?

  4. I get sore after almost every workout. However, it's never "I can't move" soreness. It's more like my muscle is saying "O Hai! I iz heer!" Cause muscles speak lolcat.

    And Yogi makes a detox tea that drastically cuts down on how sore you'll be the next day (so there are days when I'm not aware of my muscles, but also know it's because of the tea). Please note that I get nothing for saying things about the tea.

  5. <------- what she said.
    I entirely agree with the always wise Rupal.

    while I miss getting soreSORE and love hiatuses for that very reason constant doms is a (are a) red flag to mr.

  6. With me its not so much being sore as fatigued. Sore implies way too much work...

  7. My workouts are pretty intense, I'm pretty much sore everyday of working out. Tiger Balm is my friend.

  8. Haha! You come up with the best acronyms! And your Crankyland idea is brilliant!

    As you might guess, I'm sore on a pretty regular basis. Not crippling sore but definitely "feelin' sore" most days. Which actually I don't really like. I don't think I'm supposed to be sore this much & it might be a sign of too much exercise with too little recovery. Sigh.

  9. Sore? You're supposed to get sore?

    Dang. I must be doing something wrong. Or nothing at all, which is probably closer to the truth.....doidsy

  10. I take the approach that if the soreness keeps coming back there's something wrong so I stop.
    I'm all for aches and pains and stiffness when it's a new exercise or I've been slothing about, but after a few days it should be gone.

  11. When I first started working out, I was super sore about 2 days after my workout. Good supersore - like I finally hauled my junk out of my trunk. But since then the level of soreness varies. My triceps and my chest are weaker than the rest so when my trainer ups the weight, I'm usually sore. But the soreness fades as you get used to the weight and the routine. It's funny that today's topic is muscle soreness because yesterday, my trainer switched up my routine yesterday and I can already tell by tomorrow morning, I'm gonna be sore... Call me crazy but I like the soreness after a hard workout.

    As for the remedies for sore muscles, epsom salt bath always helps. Make sure to replenish your body with enough protein and stretch... Plus my bf is so proud of me for quitting smoking (after 5 years and a pack of cigarette/day) and working out so diligently that he's more than happy to give me a mini massage now and then... and THAT help too, lol...

  12. after my first workout with my trainer (monday), i was not sore tuesday, so i did my kickboxing class. after that, i was a little worn out. wed morning, woke up, and had to ROCK out of bed. my upper abs were killing me, and still are today. yesterday i was shufflin around like a 100 yr old granny, today a little better, but not great. i have another session with my trainer tonight, and i'm going to make it absolutely clear where the pain is, so we can go light, because it's all concentrated pain in my upper abs and no where else on my body.

  13. My personal trainer (god, I still love saying that... I love that i HAVE a personal trainer, that I can AFFORD IT - even if it meant I had to give up my beloved diet soda to do so...) says that building muscle is caused by making tiny tears in your muscle during a workout and the body has to rebuild the muscle; this is what causes soreness, is these tiny tears. So, according to her, if you're not at least getting a little bit sore, you're not building muscle.

    I cannot, however, seem to google anything up on that; which may just be that it's first thing in the morning...

    That being said, my personal trainer tends to work me to sore and I generally do NOT work myself all the way to sore.

  14. I get SOREsore when I change up my routine or add a challenging amount of weights to my workout, or doing stiff-legged deadlifts. But not every time. And I work fairly hard.

    I think I'd quit if I had to hurt all the time.

    I still may get what I call "muscle awareness" where a muscle lets me know I worked it, but it's not painful or tender.

  15. While there is nothing wrong with soreness from (nearly every) workout, it's not really something to either aim for or to avoid.

    DOMS is actually a pretty poor indicator of the quality of your workout. The majority of the sorness comes from the eccentric (negative, aka lowering) part of the movement.

    This means that some movements will cause much more soreness than others - ones that emphasis the negative (say, walking lunges) can leave you in a heap.

    Movements that eliminate it, such as an olympic lift, then dumping the barbell - wont' leave you too sore at all, but that doesn't mean that you haven't been worked.

    You should let the steady increase in performance be your guide - are your numbers going up, or times down? If not do something else!

  16. I get sore from time to time. After doing the Shred for the first time I couldn't use my legs. Picture Jell-O. Almost died sitting on the toilet. Cried when I brushed my teeth sore.
    But now I get sore when I try a new exercise that works a muscle that was trying to hide. HA! Found you!

    I was sore yesterday from mixing up my workout and read that sore muscles retain water. Just an FYI if you weigh and the scale is not being kind.

  17. At the moment, I've been having my OWN serious slackitude at the gym, so I haven't been sore in a while. But I LOVE IT. I LOVE to be sore. I think it's a hold-over from my dancing days, when the best days (though not every day) were the days I couldn't walk afterward. (Though going BACK to class when I was too sore to move was less fun. No doubt about that. And we had class EVERY DAY.)

  18. We can't see our muscles fatiguing and then building. The only way we seem to get an immediate sense of effect is pain. And pain = good. How sick is that? But I too like to get that soreness because it tells me I'm doing something right, I'm having an effect.

    I don't get that sore anymore so I've been trying to shake it up. I just came back from vaycay and started lifting again Tuesday. Yesterday there was some mild tenderness. Today, I ran a few miles and already my hips and sending smoke signals.

    But by next week, it'll all be old hat.


  19. Crankyland! I would buy it.

    Coffee fixes everything, doesn't it?

    I feel sore rarely enough to enjoy it, too, except when it means I'm debilitated for days or shake so much when I'm trying to squat over public toilets that I accidentally fall onto the previous occupant's urine drops.

  20. Wow, what an awesome surprise to see my name mentioned in your supercool blog today! Thank you, Crabby - I feel honored that one of my (who, me?) posts made you think. (And google)

    After I wrote that post I checked with Brad later that day and he said that at this point I shouldn't always be sore, but if my workout changes up, then yes, I'll most likely be feeling it.

    And of course, you know he changed it up that day...and the next day...and today I am feeling it big time!

  21. IF I'm working our regularly (ahem), I tend to get a bit stiff, but only sore if I push a nre area or try a new thing...as I build muscle I get it less.
    When I started bellydancing I used to wake up with the muscles on the top of my arm ACHING from holding my arms out in neurtral position until they wer fatigued...now I can hold them longer, and they jsut get stiff.
    I think if you hurt all the time, after you get "up to speed" with your workouts it would be too much. I don't see how constant damage to your body can help it.

    My usual rule is if I do something and it still hurts rediculously aftermore than 2 weeks I change something...cuz UR doin it rong...

  22. A strong cocktail and a therapeutic dose of Vitamin I do the job for me!


  23. Cher: I totally know how you are feeling right now... lol...
    I remember a couple of weeks ago, I worked out with my trainer and the next day I was feeling fine... I was like "I'm not sore at all... I'm in a great shape"... Then the day after that, I literally felt like I was carrying my body around. You're never REALLY sore the next day; it's always the day after that... 2 days...

  24. I'm a proponent of "If it hurts, don't do it." (The corollary to "If it feels good, do it.")

    I think CrankyLand sounds FAB!! Can't we do it???

  25. I'm sore right now. And I kind of love it. I did a speed workout Tuesday night, and I'm really feeling it today. I hardly ever get sore from exercise anymore, so I revel in it when it happens. I also bought a pull-up bar & have been hanging from it every night attempting to do some pull-ups (so far, I'm just a hanger, not a puller), and my arms are a little sore, too! When I started lifting weights, i loved that "I can barely comb my hair" soreness - not sure how to get that back, other than becoming slothful, which also sounds kinda sucky.

  26. I'm at an age and level of previous bodily injury (accidental) and general wear and tear abuse that something always hurts, so I don't really actively seek out more these days. I try to do exercise and stretches that RELIEVE the chronic pain!

    Hope you never get to that condition.

    But I do remember younger days when I knew I had a good workout with weights or a good run, and could practically see the muscles buffing up, and the nice cuts developing. The soreness wasn't bad, it stretched out, and it told me what I'd worked sufficiently and what needed to be worked on the next day.

    And yeah, day 2-3 usually hurt more. Sore muscles hold water because they are damaged and are inflamed. At some point when one becomes more fit a workout should just feel good and it's not until you step up to the next level or increase weight that you should feel much soreness. Building scar tissue in the connective tissue between layers of muscle is possible, and tightens the muscle up from what a sports dr. told me and for which he treated me, it was part of my carpal tunnel syndrome. I'm not sure how that works, but he broke down that tissue so the layers of muscle could "slide" better, and it fixed the carpal for years!

  27. I am with rupal & MizFit. If you are WAY too sore after a workout all the time, you can be doing more harm then good.

    Saying that, anyone that is just starting out, just getting back to it or any combo of is probably going to have DOMS.

    If your goals are to be a bodybuilder or fitness competitor or something like that, you are probably doing intense routines a lot & will feel that DOMS more than the general population.

    For the "regular folks", I think you will most likely feel some DOMS or "discomfort" after some routines & maybe not so after others.

    I am one that changes up my routine all the time so although I don't get that really tough DOMS like I used too, I do feel that I have "worked myself" after every workout. There are times where I really want to push myself & then I get that old time extra DOMS.

    I think it all comes down to your goals & how hard you are working yourself to achieve them but you can go too far as MizFit & rupal already said.

    I do a lot of gentle stretching to help my sore muscles. Your points on how to avoid sore muscles is good & I am with you, eccentric moves are great. You don't have to do them every workout. I also like your points on how to make them feel better.

  28. I'm pretty new to the frequent workout thing, but the thing that got me motivated when I started was the soreness. I walked around the rest of the day, happy (and smug) for the reminder that I had worked out that morning. 3 months into it and I'm not really getting that anymore and it makes me sad. I also consider it to be an indication that I need to be working out harder, or longer, or both, if I want to keep improving and I don't know where I'll get that needed time or what I should do that would be more intense.
    If I went half days slightly to moderately sore and half not sore at all, I'd be happy.

  29. When I asked staff at the Y to show me how to start weight training I told her I'd heard all these men congratulating each other on how sore they were going to be the next day, and I needed to avoid that because I had to USE those muscles all day at work. So she set me up with many reps with not as much weight as I might have used, and I waited until I could do all the reps without fatigue before I increased weight. It worked.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  30. Crankyland! I can't remember whether Candyland had cards that you drew, but if so, in Crankyland they should be genetic factors, don't you think? And what about turning Snakes and Ladders into Aches and ? Fatter? (not Bladders, no no no.)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  31. Wow, some really helpful information here, and I love that everyone's approach to (or retreat from) muscle soreness is entirely different!

    And love the CrankyLand suggestions and yeah, think Snakes and Ladders is due for a remake too!

  32. I do my exercise thing daily, and am not sore, so, I know that it's probably not working as well as yours does. My body isn't showing much change either, mostlly getting heavier!

  33. Anyone tried using omega-3 supplements to reduce muscle soreness? Highly concentrated omega-3s are a powerful anti-inflammatory and we know that inflammation is what causes/contributes to muscle soreness/DOMS. Its 100% natural unlike pain relieving drugs (such as acetaminophen) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen). It's also good for your health in general!

  34. don't get sore nearly enough. Rock Climbing was making me sore but now that I am up to 2 sessions per week I dont really notice it.
    I did 75 push ups yesterday and can barely move my arms now, so I think that counts.

  35. I am sore quite often after a PT session and what is interesting is my Personal Trainer will often ask the next week if anything was sore. I think so she could get a handle on which exercises gave me the hardest work-out. I like to be a bit sore but not so that it hurts to do things...

  36. The latest "Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research" mentions 30-60 seconds of cardio between exercises as a training style that minimizes soreness (part of circuit training). I've also found that foam rolling helps me a lot.

  37. Interesting to see so many different opinions on this. I get upset if I feel no soreness and work that muscle again to get it to the breaking point. But, usually I am tired by the end of weight lifing and it's hard while I do it. So, it puzzles me when sometimes I don't feel it the next day or two. For example, I am on week 2 of a new routine that has me lifting slowly and lowering quickly (so lighter weights are needed). I felt really sore last week and this week -not so much.
    It confuses me because I am challening myself and it's a new routine - so why not any true soreness?

  38. If you are sore it is a build-up of lactic acid which is cause by using a muscle too much. In Cross-country for the day before we had a meet we would play Ultimate Frisbee to rest our legs and loosen up our legs. Also if it does not hurt do not stretch it or you have a chance of pulling it. It is good though to use it lightly and warm up and cool down before and after you run or any hard workout for that matter.


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