One of the things we Personal Trainers have to explain to new untrained clients is the difference between muscle pain from applicable training and that of an actual injury.
Pain will become your best friend; both during a training session and post workout, which may last for several days. You must grow to like both, because essentially it is a by-product of a good session. In the beginning you should expect to be sore, but as your training progresses, pain is not always essential and you should never judge the effectiveness of a session based on Pain. So what types of pain can you expect?
Pain during training is caused by the build up of lactic acid. Lactic acid is a by-product of working your muscles at a level of intensity that results in an oxygen deficit, meaning there is not enough oxygen to fuel the body’s normal metabolic processes. This is called ‘anaerobic’ (without oxygen) exercise and occurs when exercising intensely with little rest. The result is a burning sensation in the muscle. This burning sensation is supposed to be a signal from your body that you need to slow down and rest to prevent damage to your muscles…in theory! Of course, we know that for muscle gains you need to make ‘the burn’ your friend. You must learn to tolerate it so as to improve your physical capacities and build and reveal more muscle.
The Day After
This type of pain is caused by micro trauma due to tiny tears in the muscle fibers caused by overload when lifting weights. This trauma helps to trigger adaptations in response to it happening again. It means your muscle will grow bigger and become stronger. This type of soreness is generally of a mild nature and generally doesn't impair muscle function. Depending on several factors such as diet, hydration, years lifted etc. it can last generally between 1 - 3 days.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: DOMS
DOMS is the type of deep muscular soreness you feel two days after a workout (not the day after) and generally is most common amongst first time lifters, when you embark on a new program that your body hasn’t adapted too or if you increase the intensity of your session. This type of pain can last from a couple of days up to a week and can prevent full muscular contract of the muscle.
Injury-Type Muscle Soreness
The last and most worrying type of pain / soreness is that caused by injury. With an injury there is usually a sharp pain that comes on very quickly and can cause immobilisation to the working area. It is nothing like any of the descriptions above and you will need to act quickly to prevent further damage. If you do find yourself injured, you will need to be cautious as to whether to proceed with your planned session, as depending on its nature, the injury may only be affected when the muscles are working in a certain range. Regardless, my advice would be to stop training because due to adrenaline and being in the "zone" you may make the injury worse thus delaying your recovery time. Rest the injured area for the remainder of the day and assess how it feels in the morning, if severe discomfort still remains then seek medical advice and treatment to get you back on track.
Tips to Prevent Injury & Reduce Muscle Soreness
Form - I cannot emphasise enough how important body form is when lifting heavy weights. Develop your technical ability first before going too crazy on weight selection.
Dynamic Mobility Warm Up & Static Stretch Down - always perform some kind of dynamic mobility warm up before hitting the weights, 5 mins on the treadmill or x trainer isn't specific to weight training programmes. Static stretching is fine if performed after your session, or 10 minutes before bed, which will not only release tights spots but also aid for a better nights sleep.
Self Myofacial Release or Foam Rolling - has become hugely popular of late and really helps with both reducing muscle soreness and preventing injury. It works through deep compression that helps to break up or relax tight muscles and adhesions formed between muscle layers and their surroundings.
Sports Massage - some research has found that sports massage may help reduce reported muscle soreness and reduce swelling, although it had no effects on muscle function. Personally I'm a firm believer in these for both my clients and myself. The feel good factor after is phenomenal (not at the time mind you) and works in a similar fashion to the above but through applied pressure from the masseuse. Ideally I would recommend one every 2 weeks but as a minimum aim for once a month.
Active Recovery - is the process of exercising only for the purpose of stimulating the muscles enough to increase blood flow throughout the body, thereby increasing nutrient partitioning. If done correctly there will still be extra calories burned without traumatizing muscle fibers, allowing for quality muscle recovery after your usual hard-core training cycles. I would say that once every 6-8 weeks works for the heavy gym goer.
Rest & Recovery - when we exercise we are causing changes in the body, such as muscle tissue breakdown, depletion of energy stores (muscle glycogen), fluid loss and we challenge the cardiovascular & muscular system as well as the central nervous system. Rest and recovery allows these stores to be replenished, allows tissues to repair bigger and stronger and allows us to rehydrate and refresh. Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to breakdown from intensive exercise, resulting in overtraining. Ideally a minimum of one full day off a week is suitable, personally I prefer the 3 days on 1 day off approach. If you find it hard or feel guilty taking a day off, try some foam rolling combined with some static stretching on that forth day.
So there you go, a little more information for you on identifying the difference between inevitable pain and actual injury. Remember that famous saying "Pain is weakness leaving the body" Well it is!
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