Let’s Stop Using Sore Muscles as a Badge of Honor

We gym rats just love being sore. Waddling around the day after some seriously tough squats? That means they did their job. And struggling to hold the phone to your ear because your biceps are so freaking zonked? Serious bragging rights.

Yeah, we’ve all reveled in the “hurts so good” aches and pains that come in the hours and days following our workouts. But here’s the thing: Sore muscles aren’t necessarily a sign of a great workout. This is by no means meant to put down all your hard work—rather, it’s to inform you that contrary to what you’ve always thought, it turns out that soreness isn’t the best measure of how effective your workout was.

That “hurts so good” feeling is called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. It refers to the stiff, weak, and sore muscles that you get about 24 to 48 hours after a workout. It’s especially common if you’re new to working out, haven’t exercised in a while, or recently tried a new type of exercise. “While the process is not fully understood, current research shows that the soreness, tightness, and reduction in strength capacity occurs alongside damage to the muscle fibers’ contractile units, called sarcomeres, as well as inhibited calcium signaling and function within those units. These changes lead to inflammatory responses and the activation of several muscle protein degradation pathways,” which result in pain and weakness, Minnesota-based exercise physiologist Mike T. Nelson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S. tells SELF.

As you’ve probably heard, exercise improvements come down to your body’s ability to adapt to the stresses you put it under. Challenge it, break it down (just a bit), and as it recovers, it will build itself back up even stronger and fitter than before. So, from that point of view, DOMS has to be a good thing, right? Well, sometimes it is. It can be a sign that you’re challenging your body in new ways, hitting previously underused muscles, and increasing your workout’s intensity in a significant way. But it can also be a sign that your workout is all over the place, you aren’t progressing toward any one goal, and that your body is in dire need of recovery.

DOMS isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Virtually every exerciser has started a new workout, only to be riddled with DOMS a day or two later. Then, when they hit up the exact same workout the next week, no DOMS (or just less intense DOMS). What gives?

According to 2016 research from Brigham Young University, it only takes one workout for your immune system to “learn” how to best repair your muscles from that workout. As a result, you boost your recovery (think: exercise results) while actually reducing your likelihood of getting DOMS.

So if you’re constantly dealing with DOMS, it’s possible that you’re trying new and different workouts every time that you hit the gym, which, in the end, can shortchange your results. Fitness results—it doesn’t matter if we are talking increased speed, more muscle, less fat, or better heart health—need consistency. Think about it this way: You aren’t going to build a big booty by doing goblet squats one week and calf raises the next. No, you have to do squats every single week, increasing their depth, weight, or number of reps or sets, as often as you can.

Meanwhile, if you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum as a consummate creature of habit, more likely than not, constant soreness is a telltale sign that you’re overtraining, suggests one Sports Health review. “You need to allow the muscles to recover so you’re not overtraining or hitting plateaus, and continual DOMS can signal that your body is breaking down from your workouts, but not necessarily building back up afterward,” Baltimore-based strength coach Erica Suter, C.S.C.S., tells SELF. “Proper recovery will allow for a stronger grind the next day, and for you to hone in on high intensity in subsequent workouts.”

After all, from a pure logistics side of things, are you going to want to hit up a crazy hard cycling class when you can barely walk? Seriously sore muscles can cause many exercisers to space their workouts further and further apart, or prevent them from performing those workouts with proper form, Tennessee-based personal and online trainer Hannah Davis, C.S.C.S., tells SELF. That’s a huge whole reason in itself to stop chasing soreness.

There are a handful of other ways to judge the quality of your workout.

So if soreness isn’t all that and a bag of protein powder, how do you know if your workout will deliver? Here are four ways to tell if you really got a good workout:

1. You leave the gym feeling better than when you got there. “A sign of a great workout is that you actually feel great after the workout, not wrecked,” Davis says. Sure, you should feel some fatigue in your muscles, but you should still feel amped and energetic, ideally even loosened up a bit.

2. You get your heart rate up. “Heart rate is objective and, with wearable technology, so simple to use,” Michael Silverman P.T., M.S.P.T., director of rehabilitation and wellness at Northern Westchester Hospital, tells SELF. Here’s a quick guide: Your maximum heart rate is roughly 220 beats per minute minus your age. Balls-to-the-wall sprints should put you between 80 and 100 percent of your max heart rate (given your doc has OK’ed you getting your heart rate that high). Steady-state endurance work should get your heart rate up between 60 and 75 percent of your max. And if you’re under 60 percent, you’re probably (hopefully) stretching.

3. Your RPE is on point. RPE is short for “rate of perceived exertion,” a measure of exercise intensity based on how hard you feel you’re working, on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being “I can’t take one more step.” Steady-state cardio should have you working at an RPE of about 5 to 7, and high-intensity intervals about 8 to 9. But RPE is particularly helpful when gauging exercise intensity during strength workouts, which might not spike your heart rate as high as sprints would—but should still feel hard. “As some strength coaches say, ‘weight lifting shouldn’t tickle,’” Suter says. Aim for an RPE of 7 to 9.

4. You increase exercise intensity or volume (while keeping impeccable form). “Tracking your progress will assure you that regardless of muscle soreness, you are on the right track,” Davis says. You don’t have to increase exercise intensity or volume (think: reps and sets) every week, but if you’ve lifted the same 10-pound dumbbell for three sets of 10 reps for five weeks in a row, it’s probably time to consider pushing yourself a wee bit harder.

You might also like: An Ultra-Effective Dumbbell Arm Workout You Can Do At Home

Source Article from http://www.self.com/story/sore-muscles