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No Pain, No Gain?

Apr 6, 2021

Let’s talk about muscle soreness: Is it good? Is it bad? Does it mean I worked out really hard? Why do my muscles even get sore? Why might they not?

First things first, let me do my part in ridding the fitness world of the idea that lactic acid causes muscle soreness. This is a totally outdated idea! We now know that while lactic acid is produced during intense exercise, it is all removed before muscle soreness has a chance to hit us. It does not stay around in the muscle and cause soreness.

So, why do our muscles get sore? Well, when we incorporate the principle of overload we are pushing our muscles past the point of comfort; we are working them to fatigue and breakdown so that they can adapt to these more intense loads. So, in this case, the muscle “knows” it needs to grow bigger and stronger because it was pushed to its breaking point and incurred damage. This is when muscles get sore! A muscle is broken down and damaged during a workout and then must rebuild itself. A muscle might also get sore if it is used in a way it’s not often used, for essentially the same reason: it must adapt to a different type or amount of usage.

Progressive overload is the most important concept when trying to gain strength. Progressively increasing strain on the muscles over time and continuing to subject them to greater stress will force them to adapt. In other words: you get stronger! This gradual and continual process of breaking down muscles will lead to soreness in the muscles. This process must also be accompanied by proper nutrition and plenty of rest so that the muscles can repair themselves.

Now, we know that muscle soreness could be indicative of a really good workout, but it could also be indicative of poor form, dehydration, or elevated levels of stress hormones. It is not always a good sign. What about the opposite scenario: what does a lack of muscle soreness mean? It is likely if you are not sore you did not incur muscle damage, BUT that does not mean you did not get a good workout. There are several other factors that can cause muscles to grow without you becoming sore. Likewise, just because you did become sore does not mean your muscles will grow bigger; without proper intake of nutrients and getting enough rest muscles cannot grow.

Check back next week and we will talk about the best options for overcoming muscle soreness!


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