Is It Good That My Muscles Are Sore?

There are two traditional ways of navigating the subway stations in New York City.  The first is to exit the train and head to the nearest set of stairs, arriving on the surface as quickly as possible.  The second is to spend as much time underground as you can, exiting as close to your destination as possible.

Then there is the DOMS method: Traveling whatever distance necessary to make it to the elevator or escalator.  The DOMS method is informed by our delayed-onset muscle soreness, which drives us to avoid stairs at all costs.  It’s the, “Let me walk twice as far to use an elevator/escalator, rather than using the stairs right here” method.  It’s this one:

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That method is currently being used by Ninjas at MFF, since we’re learning a new Phase of classes.  It’s also being used by some Sinfonians at UD who are participating in a Transformation program. That’s not judgement; I’m using it, too, because my quads sort of hate me after doing some slide board mountain climbers on Monday.

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There are a lot of us that are sore, but that alone doesn’t provide us with any scientific information. Soreness isn’t an indicator that you worked harder than normal, or that you’re out of shape, or that something is wrong.  It’s just an indicator that we did something a little bit different.

The soreness that comes with “different” begs the question: Is it good that my muscles are sore? With that, we’re apt to think, “I did this well, and we build an emotional connection to soreness.  Soreness becomes an indicator of success, and we tie that feeling of success to the idea tht we need to be sore to be successful.

Remember, soreness isn’t a sign of success.  Soreness is a sign of difference.  Soreness is your body reminding you, “Woah, we need something that we don’t remember doing before.”

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When we do have that delay in muscle soreness, consider it an emotional expression of a physical  protective mechanism from your muscles.  Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is caused by microtrauma (tiny little tears)  in your muscles, and is normally associated with eccentric or lengthening contractions.  Our bodies respond to this damage by rapidly rebuilding tissues, and decides that making them stronger will help prevent future soreness.  While it’s rebuilding, you can consider that soreness as your body putting in a simple request:  Please don’t do that right away, I’d like an extra day or two to recover.

Pretty neat when we consider it that way: It’s a request that we cool it for a second, so we can adapt adequately and prepare for the future.  Our sore muscles are requesting that we budget our physical energy for the future.  I like to take this as a sign that we should continue moving, albeit slower than our previous workout.

Let’s reflect on how to un-sore yourself.  None of these strategies can magically make your soreness go away, but they can make your movement more comfortable, and help you prepare for next time.  Here are several of my favorite un-soreness strategies:

Drink more water.  Water in-and-of itself probably won’t reduce your soreness, but the extra fluids can help aid your body in repairing damaged tissue, and that’s going to feel great.

Fish oil.  Our favorite anti-inflammatory isn’t just about heart and brain health.  Your workout is inflammatory, and fish oil can be an extra boost for your booty in the recovery process.  Think about it as lubricant for those stiff muscles.

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Massage.  It can be self-massage done with a foam roller or a lacrosse ball, or a proper massage from an licensed massage therapist.  It’s absolutely up to you, but I implore you to get it done.    Massage is great for recovery, because it helps flush out tissues, increase blood flow to the area, and address sore spots.

A hands-on massage will certainly be idea, but I doubt you’l go wrong with a a $10 foam roller, or $2 lacrosse ball.  They’re both one-time investments that you can use whenever you’d like.

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Moving. We can call it aerobic work, cardiac output, cardio, whatever you’d like.  Bottom line is, moving at an easy and comfortable way will almost always provide us with some soreness reduction.  Maybe it’s the extra blood flow, and maybe it’s the feel-good hormones that are released throughout our body when we move more.  As a good scientist I’m curious, and as a mover, I’m just glad that moving feels better.  This strategy is one of my favorites right now, because movement is one of our most inexhaustible sources of magic.

Stop the Search for Soreness

Let’s revisit the initial question: Is it good that my muscles are sore?  Revisit the information, and consider what it means for you.  Is soreness truly something you need to be successful? Likely not.  Will it happen when you try new things? Oh hell yea.  Do you need it all the time? Gosh I hope not.

Address your soreness as sensibly as possible.  Feelin’ beat up?  Focus on feeling better.  Rarin’ to go?  Have at a more intense workout.  Finding the balance is incredibly personal, so it’s entirely up to YOU to find what works. If you have questions, I’m here to help!

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