What is muscle soreness?
Soreness can mean a few different things. Some soreness in your muscles is normal and expected after starting a new workout routine. Most of us who workout regularly actually enjoy this feeling of soreness…it makes us feel like we really nailed that last workout!
This condition actually has a name: It is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). When you work a muscle, little micro-traumas occur inside the muscle from all those hard contractions and relaxations. This causes inflammation and tells your body to make the muscle stronger and bigger, so that next time your muscles have to face something like doing squats they will be ready for it!
The process usually happens 1-2 days after your workout. For example, if you did 5 sets of squats on Monday, expect that on Tuesday you will be sore, and on Wednesday you will probably be even more sore! Thursday should be a little better, and by the time Friday comes around, you should feel fine.
The key is managing soreness, and not allowing it to negatively affect your next workout. This important fact took me a long time to learn! Back when I started working out with weights in high school, I would just go as hard as possible every time. Predictably, I would be so sore for the next week, that I could barely do anything…forget about hitting the weights again! You would think that I would have learned something from doing this same cycle of working out to total failure, then hobbling around for a week, then repeating the cycle, since I trained this way throughout college, medical school, residency, fellowship, and a few years after that too! Well ultimately I did learn something, but it sure took me long enough!
What I eventually learned about my body was that my intense train-to-failure-every-damn-time style of working out was actually counter-productive to making long-term progress! If you are making yourself so sore that you can’t train the same muscle group more than once every 7-10 days, then it’s too much!
When I was younger, I thought I was training “hardcore” and was wondering when I would start to look and feel that way. What I was actually doing was trying to rush the process of growth; If I only had more patience, I could have made slower and more consistent gains instead of repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
So what did I learn with experience?
It is important to manage fatigue and soreness, to allow yourself to train the same muscle groups a few times per week. Don’t go to failure on every set of every exercise. Cycle your exercises throughout the week to work some muscles while others are healing, and to work sore muscles from different angles while they are still healing. Incorporate some generalized movement days into the week to allow for active recovery. Stretch everyday. Drink lots of water and make sure you are getting enough high-quality nutrition (not just calories).
I have incorporated all of these principles into the Q15 program, so you don’t need to think about it too much. But realize that a little soreness is fine, and not only can you work through it, but you actually should work through it on your next workout.
What I mean by this is simple: It’s OK to work a sore muscle again, just as long as you don’t push it to failure (when you can’t complete even one more rep). Changing up the angle of attack also helps manage fatigue: That is, if your legs are still sore from doing squats, it is still OK to do some lunges or step-ups. In fact, working the sore muscle with alternative exercises actually may help reduce soreness and speed up recovery…just as long as you do it right.
Over time, this soreness will get less intense. Your connective tissues and muscles will become stronger and more resilient, and you will also simply get better at doing the movements. When you eventually increase the number of reps or start doing harder exercises you will still get sore, but it is usually not as intense as the beginner soreness you experience in the first few weeks of a new program.
So hang in there! Soreness is good and it is OK to keep going. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, water, and nutrition. Stretch every day for 10 minutes or more. Just keep moving and you will be fine!
How do you know if your soreness is too much?
If soreness is interfering with you completing your next workout, it’s too much! I would much rather you keep consistent on the program than just get really sore from it.
To reduce soreness, you can reduce the number of reps you do for each set until you no longer get extremely sore after the workout. Also, consider trying some of the easier alternative exercises shown in this video. You can work up slowly to the full exercises when you are ready (usually after about 2-3 weeks for most people).
What kind of soreness should you be worried about?
There are a couple of instances when soreness is not fine, and you should be concerned. If any of these sound familiar, you should see a doctor or physical therapist:
- Joint soreness that is sharp and doesn’t improve in 1-2 days
- Joint soreness associated with swelling or abnormal movement
- Severe muscle soreness associated with fever or fatigue