Feb 22, 2014

Muscle Recovery and Soreness: No Pain No Gain, Right?

Yesterday I worked legs and today I am sore which reminds me of a question someone asked me.  The question was how to avoid or prevent being sore after a work out.  Good question.  The answer is that there is no way to prevent it.  If your muscles do ANY activity that they are not accustomed to for a few minutes or more they will be sore.

I have been focusing on strengthening my hamstrings because they are my weak area and it could be part of the reason my knees have pain.  I used to be a runner so my quads were greatly developed, however I had not learned the value or necessity of strengthening all areas of a muscle group.  For example, we have all seen guys who work the crap out of the chest & have a great chest but no back muscle.  Usually their shoulders are rolled forward because the chest muscles are developed and pull on the back muscles which are not developed.  This imbalance can create injury and is likely it will in due time if not right away. 

There is no way to prevent the muscles from being sore or stop them from being sore once they are.  We can help reduce the soreness by drinking plenty of water to help the formation of lactic acid to be flushed from the body.  Lactic acid naturally builds as a result of working out and it can get trapped in the muscle fibers.  The way out?  Water and massage.  Massage is a great way to maintain the integrity of healthy muscles and help work out nasty knots.  Post massage it is crucial to drink plenty of water to flush out toxins.  Another common thing to do is soak in a warm bath of Epsom salt.  I am not much of a bath person (weird, right?) so I never do this but it works.  This is something I recommend to my massage clients on a regular basis.

Stretching is imperative and it is best to do that pre and post workout.  This is something that is all too often overlooked.  I am not sure if it is because people do not realize the benefit or if they do not want to take the extra couple of minutes to do it.  Believe me, this really helps reduce the soreness.

Another important thing to remember is rest.  The body absolutely needs to have rest days.  Commonly I hear about people working out 7-9 days in a row which does not allow any of the muscles worked to recover.  A myth is that the more the muscle gets worked, the better results it will have but the fact is that the real muscle growth occurs during rest days.  Besides, it helps reduce soreness for those of us who are not looking to kill it in the gym every day.  A good rule of thumb for a beginner is to start with 2-3 days per week.  Personally, I would think 3 days would be good but as I have stated in other blogs I am not a doctor and you need to consult with yours before beginning any workout routine.  They know you best!  (I hope)  ;)

I prefer to avoid taking aspirin, Tylenol or other pain relievers.  I really try to avoid taking anything besides vitamins and supplements unless I absolutely have to.  Sometimes soreness prompts people to take these things and a suggestion I might make is use something topical such as Gwei Hua.  This is something similar to Tiger Balm and it is a more natural alternative if you just cannot bare the pain. 

Sometimes people are being sissies and whine about the pain of working out.  When I hear someone say "No Pain, No Gain" I understand they mean in order to get results you will be uncomfortable, maybe even endure a little pain.  Nothing that is not worth it!!  It will definitely be worth it, I promise.  I remember the burn in my lungs when I began running and it sucked... bad... but I did it because I was running for a cause and then the burn went away... eventually.  heehe, really it did. 

On the other hand I have heard people injure themselves, I see it on Twitter A LOT, and continue working "through" the pain.  Ummm, no.  (In an authoritative tone)  That is not the way injuries work.  Genuine injuries need time to heal and "working through" it can lead to further injury.  This means even more down time, sometimes permanent injury.  It is best to allow an injury heal prior to getting back into the gym.  The term "No Pain No Gain" should never be used in reference to an injury.

This reminds me of when I was training for a marathon and broke my arm.  After the surgery I asked the doctor if I could resume training for the marathon and he said no.  I asked why not, my legs were not broken.  He then said "OK, if you think you can".  Clearly he knew that the broken bones clanking against one another each time my feet connected with the ground would make me change my mind.  But I did not know it... yet.

I get my shoes on, get in my sling and stretch then begin running.  At first it was a bit uncomfortable -but it had been this entire time because it was broken.  Then the pain grew quickly.  It intensified tremendously with each pounding step I took.  About 1 block in I realized what an idiot I was and what the doctor already knew.  If I would've used the term "No Pain No Gain" I may have pushed through - maybe not because it was excruciating - and could have caused more damage.  Or not allowed appropriate healing.

The next tip is keep up to date on your shoes.  Shoes should be changed out every 3 months or 100 miles if you are a runner.  Your shoes support you and if they are broken down you could be hurting or damaging your knees, ankles and back.  Buy good ones.  Expensive does not always equate to good but you should consider having yourself fitted.  I got my fitting done at the Runner's Den.  It was amazing and the shoes are a little more expensive there but once I knew what shoe I needed I could get them anywhere.  I did buy my first pair there; after all, the sales person did their work for me.  Besides, who doesn't like new shoes?

While there is no way to avoid being sore after a work out, there are things you can do to reduce the discomfort.  Remember, that is all it is.  It is just discomfort and is is temporary for a lifetime of fulfillment!!  It is a good idea to work through this but never through an injury.  No pain no gain should only be used when referring to workout soreness but never an injury.

Can you tell me a time you were injured versus being sore?  I love and welcome your comments.

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  1. Thanks for posting this great info. I heard that when you work out....you develop tiny tears in your muscles, which in-turn is why they grow bigger...is that true? If it is, it makes so much sense to rest.

    1. Great question Suzette! Yes, it is true. The muscles develop tiny tears and yes, the repair makes them grow. The repair process creates scar tissue and then the muscle gets bigger.