Everyone knows it, everyone hates it, everyone loves it: The sore muscles . In contrast to the classic hangover, which only manifests itself the next morning after a boozy night of partying, the phenomenon of muscle soreness has far different causes. Luckily. Or is it?
In general, we refer to sore muscles as acute pain during movement in the muscles that occurs some time after intense physical exertion.
Typical symptoms of sore muscles are hardened, stiff and swollen muscles that are painful when exposed to excessive pressure or direct strain.
Muscle soreness usually develops about 24 hours after an above-average intense load, reaches its maximum effect after about 48 to 72 hours and then slowly subsides.
The first question that arises when acute muscle soreness occurs: Should I continue training if I have sore muscles or should I take a break?
This article is an excerpt from our Hypertrophy Guide and clarifies exactly this question for you.
What are the causes of sore muscles?
In many women’s magazines, direct word-of-mouth propaganda by trained storytellers or in the speculative discussions in the free weight area, it is often said that the acidification of the muscles is the trigger for sore muscles. Is that correct?
If I ask that stupid question, this is of course a fundamental misconception. The sore muscles are induced by completely different factors.
The accumulation of lactate (lactic acid) in the muscle and blood plasma is very large after intense exercise well above the permanent performance limit, but it returns to the initial state after an hour at the latest.
Thus, the temporary hyperacidity of the muscle cannot be a trigger for the sore muscles. So what triggers the sore muscles?
Whether muscle soreness occurs primarily depends on the type (eccentric, concentric), intensity and duration of the training.
However, not all training methods consistently lead to sore muscles, even if a certain duration of stress is always given.
Rather, short-term high-intensity stress promotes the development of sore muscles, while long-term low-intensity stress does not particularly affect the development of sore muscles .
Mechanical stresses on muscle fibers, as a result of which individual fiber strands, tiny fiber units and the muscular connective tissue experience structural damage induced by training (microtraumas), are the primary trigger for muscle character.
In particular, eccentric muscle work, which, in contrast to concentric work, has significantly higher load peaks, can trigger mechanical overstressing of the muscles and damage muscular structures.
Eccentric work particularly attacks the weak points of the contractile units (muscle filaments, see the beautiful colorful graphic at the beginning) and there destroys important structures within the smallest muscular units, the sarcomeres.
The reason for this damage is an intramuscular overstretching of the muscle filaments, which are often pulled apart during a (negative dynamic) contraction until the filaments finally tear.
On both sides of the so-called “Z-disk” (a connecting barrier between the individual sarcomeres) there is an opposing pulling movement of the myosin heads, which nevertheless try to perform the contraction movement that shortens the sarcomere, even though it is at this moment is actually stretched. It is clear that this cannot go well for long.
Development of sore muscles – sometimes yes, sometimes no?
In everyday training, you can often see that muscle soreness does not occur after every workout, even if the intensity seems almost identical. This is due to the fact that the symptoms of sore muscles only occur with very unusual loads.
After just a few training units, the affected muscle and connective tissue structures hypertrophy to such an extent that a renewed (comparable) destruction of these structures becomes very unlikely.
This is how your body reacts to the unusual stress stimuli. In particular, the muscular connective tissue structures should protect the contractile muscle elements from mechanical overstretching.
If they are overused, they are damaged and built up again so that they can be better managed again.
This makes it clear why you often hear from some athletes “… You, I have no more sore muscles at all. I think I have to train more or I am just too trained. ”
The only useful countermeasure you now have is to point out unfamiliar exercises. So if your buddy has only trained his upper body so far, why not just ask him if he wants to train his match-like legs for a change?
This not only leads to renewed sore muscles, it can also save a lot of aesthetics! Touché.
Can I prevent sore muscles?
Jain. Sore muscles result from excessive strain. One solution would be to reduce the corresponding burden. But that means that your muscle hypertrophy is progressing more slowly than you might like.
However, you can eliminate the occurrence of constant muscle soreness symptoms by reducing the increase in intensity. You cannot prevent sore muscles when training (again) as a beginner or after long breaks, but you can reduce it significantly through regular training. Anything that is not unusually stressful for your body does not necessarily lead to sore muscles.
For sore muscles: take a break or train?
Probably the most crucial question when it comes to sore muscles. Can I continue my training or do I have to pause training if my muscles are sore?
Muscle soreness is mechanical damage to muscular structures that must be repaired on a biochemical level. However, regeneration processes predominantly take place in the resting phase and are therefore dependent on training breaks.
If you still do not want to forego training, it can make sense to first reduce the training intensity so that the training-induced stimulus is below the threshold for a renewed muscle hypertrophy.
Alternatively, e.g. with a 3-part split training plan push / pull / legs are specifically trained in such a way that the corresponding sore muscles from the 1st training day (with a one-day break after the 3rd day) have subsided on the 5th day
The division into push / pull / legs enables relatively undisturbed regeneration of the individual “hungover” muscle groups, which are only minimally stimulated on the training days – if at all.
A strict recovery phase, however, is the most effective treatment method for sore muscles. A break is optimal, a reduced training intensity is suboptimal. Sauna or heat treatment can also be used as a support. More on this in the section “Recovery”.