"After my first gym session, I couldn't brush my teeth!" An article about muscle pain.
I could still remember the first time I went to the gym and lifted weights. Next morning, I woke up and went to the bathroom... And suddenly, I couldn’t brush my teeth!
It wasn’t because I adored my morning breath or anything, but it was because I couldn't lift my arms! They were stiff, tight, and achy... and boy they were sore! (In case you were curious, I brushed my teeth bringing my neck down.)
Looking back, I didn't really know what actually happened. Why did that happen after I got myself some sleep? Did it have something to do with my workout the other day? Why am I experiencing muscle pain now and not immediately after lifting those weights? What gives?
It turns out what I experienced was something called DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, and it’s a common occurrence for anyone who has ever done any exercise.
Let’s dive in.
What is DOMS - Your Muscle Pain Explained?
Delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS in short) is the characteristic muscle pain you feel 24 to 72 hours after a particularly strenuous workout session. And in my research, I found out that DOMS is also known as muscle fever. It makes sense to call it that as it makes your muscles feel feverish; like a dull, continuous, throbbing pain with some sort of heat. This is because your muscle is actually inflamed.
\What causes this you might ask? The simple answer: overexertion. The more detailed version is that, during a workout, muscles do three types of contractions, one where the muscle shortens (like an upwards bicep curl), one where the muscle does not change length (holding the weight straight in front of you), and lastly one where the muscle lengthens (lowering the weight below your elbow.) It’s this lengthening contraction, when overdone or done too many times, that causes tiny microscopic tears or damages to the muscle; which is just about as painful as it sounds.
Now you might be thinking, “I just have to eliminate lengthening contractions from my workouts!” This isn’t plausible nor is it recommended. Lengthening contractions are part of what builds up muscles and strengthen them, so in a way, the soreness is a good thing!
Should I be Concerned?
Not at all. This sort of muscle soreness is normal and happens to everyone. There are times though, that muscle pain isn’t just DOMS. There are two other major reasons for muscle pain, and that’s injury and rhabdomyolysis.
How is Doms different from Muscle Injury or Rhabdo?
DOMS will feel like a tightening, heating up of the muscle, and a dull pain. A muscle injury would present itself differently. Instead of dully aching, it would feel like a sharp, stabbing pain during or immediately after an exercise. Rhabdo, on the other hand, is another thing altogether.
Rhabdomyolysis - rhabdo for short - can be caused by severe muscle strain and is a large fear many high-intensity workout-ers (eg. CrossFit) have. The pain in this injurious syndrome is also stabbing, ranging from minimal to severe, but it would be accompanied by swelling of the muscle, muscle weakness or inability to move, and dark red or brown urine with decreased urination.
Rhabdo can be fatal, so if you exhibit any of these symptoms, it’s best to check with your doctor.
How to Prevent Muscle Pain After a Workout
The number one way to prevent sore muscles is to gradually increase the intensity of your workout, rather than going all in immediately. Sure you can probably lift that particularly heavy weight, but can you do enough reps on it? You can probably run fast, but can you keep it up for more than five minutes?
Bodybuilding.com and nerdfitness.com recommend that when starting, your first weightlifting workout should start with just lifting the bar. A standard barbell weighs 20.4 kgs, and with this, you can practice your form and make sure you’re not swinging the weight and not using momentum. If a 20.4kg bar is still too heavy, ask your gym if they have a lighter, training barbell.
Build up your lifting by adding 5% of the weight at a time when you’re able to do 30 reps already with a particular weight. AND DON’T GO TOO FAST! Going too fast will increase your momentum and increase the potential for injury, plus, you won’t get the results you want!
With running, you can do the run-walk method. No, it doesn’t mean run for how long you can and walk when you’re tired; it’s running for a certain amount of time and then walking for another period, alternating between those two throughout your 20 to 30-minute run.
Down here is a chart which the NYTimes recommends for run-walk workouts depending on your experience level.
for the duration of your run
30 seconds to 1 minute
There is a list of stipulated measures that are still under studies though. These are:
- warm-up exercises
- drinking extra water
- compression garments
In the end, an exercise program with adequate rest periods (Training every other day in the week and resting the others,) good nutrition and sufficient sleep are the best ways of preventing this annoying muscle pain.
How to Combat DOMS - Ways to Ease Sore Muscles after Workout
Other than our usual ibuprofen and paracetamols, there are other ways to ease sore muscles.
- Ingesting Omega-3 rich foods - has been shown to relieve pain and inflammation in 48 hrs
- Foam Roller Exercises - strengthens muscles and eases pain
- Heat therapy - increases blood flow to the muscle thereby helping it regenerate quicker.
DOMS though will subside within 2 or three days, so we suggest just chilling it out for a while if you really can't hit those bench presses at the gym.
In the end, the presence of sore muscles after a workout means that you're doing well! Your muscles are a bit torn up on the inside, but the pain in your muscles is a symptom of your body beginning to repair itself. And when they’re repaired, your muscles will be stronger and bigger than ever!
So keep on working out and aim for those sore muscles! But remember that a good exercise program, plenty of rest, and good food are always the way to go to prevent most of these unwanted pains. Happy exercising!