No pain, no gain?
Most everyone who exercises regularly has experienced muscle soreness during or immediately following an intense workout, which seems to give credence to the adage, “No pain, no gain!”
Of course progressive exercise sessions shouldn’t be undertaken to purposely inflict pain simply for the sake of creating agonizing outcomes. In fact exercise should be taken only slightly beyond the comfort zone and never to the point of absolute pain! But, undoubtedly there are occasions when muscle soreness becomes part of the experience for avid trainees of all levels.
One main type of muscle pain sometimes experienced during or soon after exercise is called acute muscle soreness. Intense repetitive movements can cause soreness to the muscle[s] most directly involved in an exercise. This form of muscular soreness is temporary not chronic and subsides immediately or about one hour following exercise.
Where does it hurt?
Acute muscle soreness or inflammation generates peculiar sensations in muscle[s] under tension. Sensations may be present in the form of a progressively unpleasant burning, tingling, heat or some other poignant discomfort. If the exercise motion causing the pain is extended at the same or greater intensity, discomfort increases to the point where inevitably the exercise can no longer be performed until the muscle is rested.
In order for training adaptations to occur, trainees’ bodies carry out numerous physiological actions in response to exercise related stress. These actions, which perhaps contribute to muscle soreness, help the body progress toward higher fitness in distinctive healing phases at the cellular level.
As muscles remodel toward better efficiency, weaknesses decrease and exercise tolerance improves enabling many trainees to postpone immediate muscle soreness while performing the same exercises that previously caused pain at the same or lower intensity. But, a key point relative to attaining greater fitness levels involves adherence to the overload principle.
Overload, pushing limits!
It states trainees must exercise against a resistance or intensity greater than usually encountered to progress in terms of strength, muscle size, endurance, etc. Nevertheless, increasing levels of exercise intensity often leads to that dreadful state of acute muscle soreness. Hence progressive exercise tends to present a dilemma in that continuous training success warrants occasional bouts of temporary muscle soreness.
Dr. Fred Hatfield, Co-Founder and President of the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) states, “If you use the same amount of resistance [or intensity] for the same [exercises] every workout, there will be no continued improvement beyond the point [a trainees’] body has already adapted.” In other words, people interested in training goals exceeding (basic health) maintenance must gradually intensify exercises, which unfortunately could produce various degrees of acute muscle soreness.
Causes of acute or immediate muscle soreness are thought to be induced by diminished blood flow to active muscle tissue along with an accruement of metabolic by-products. The by-products that generally accumulate are lactic acid, hydrogen ions and/or other waste substrates associated to muscle metabolism at the cellular level.
This is why it’s especially important to cool down and not abruptly halt bodily movement following intense exercises. Cooling down enables lactic acid to better circulate into various tissues for energy production thereby reducing discomfort within working muscles.
It is worth repeating; the good news about acute muscle soreness is that it normally disappears soon after an exercise bout while the positive effects of progressive exercise can last a lifetime.