By Stacy Vanzant
There are a lot of variables on how your body can respond when you push yourself to new fitness limits. Many of you may have experienced discomfort and soreness due to your new 2018 resolutions or fitness goals. Some of these reactions from your body can make you believe that you’ve suffered an injury by pushing yourself to new areas in the gym, but how do you know if your body is actually injured, or just extremely sore?
As fitness professionals, we are always looking for new ways to get our clients or group classes to enjoy new exercises. Sometimes, though, that new exercise can create sore muscles because you’re not used to working a specific muscle or working the muscle for longer periods of time than what you’re accustomed to. Often times, it can create doubt and make you question if the pain or discomfort you’re experiencing is just a sore or tender muscle or an actual injury.
I recently had a personal training client experience extreme soreness. We had been working together on both strength training and cardio for about seven months. We had incorporated a few new exercises on a different piece of exercise equipment. Her leg soreness was so severe that even lying on her stomach at night was painful. When she returned to work the day after we had our training session several of her co-workers asked if she would go to her next personal training session, or if she was going to quit. Her response was perfect, “I’m just sore! I’m not going to quit! How can I get stronger if I’m not pushing myself?” Not only was I proud of her response, but she was determined to push through the soreness, although it was extremely uncomfortable.
When you exercise a muscle you are creating small (safe) tears in the muscle fiber called Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness (DOMS). The tenderness and soreness you feel can set in anywhere from 24-72 hours. DOMS can make you feel tight and achy and the area can be tender to touch. Movement can be uncomfortable, but continuing to move and gently stretch your muscles will help reduce soreness.
Discomfort from muscle soreness can increase in intensity by sitting still. The rule of thumb is “the more you move, the more you improve!” Being still because of the discomfort will only make it worse, causing the soreness to last longer. Although it might be uncomfortable for a short period of time, exercising again with some light cardio or easy exercises working the area of discomfort will actually help you feel better faster. If your legs are sore, try a good 30 minute walk to loosen the muscles and reduce the lactic acid build up.
Increasing your water intake will also improve sore muscles. Giving your muscles plenty of fluids will help them heal faster, hydrate muscle mass, and remove impurities/lactic acid from the body.
On the contrary, if you’ve suffered an injury you will likely feel pain and discomfort immediately or up to 24 hours after the injury occurs. It typically does not improve with time and is painful when using the muscle or area of the body that has been injured. Ice and heat can be common ways to help lessen the pain and discomfort, but with severe injuries you should always see a medical professional if you don’t see improvement within 7-10 days.
Soreness is part of growing in fitness and improving your health. Although it can sometimes be unpleasant, just remember that soreness is a way of your body telling you good job and keep going!