The Soreness Sweet Spot
Sometimes people interpret the muscle soreness they feel a day or two after a workout as a sign they are too weak to exercise or need to drop down a notch in intensity. In fact, soreness is normal, even in young, skilled athletes and experienced, older exercisers.
Not only that, soreness is an essential, transient phase that is repeated over and over again on the path to achieving and maintaining fitness. It’s a positive signal that the muscles and tendons are rebuilding.
Our bodies work in strange and miraculous ways. One of them is that they get stronger when subjected to mechanical stress, whether moving against a load, moving faster, or moving in new directions. All of these are included in the Younger Games.
Exercise, especially against resistance with bodyweight against gravity, bands or weights, naturally causes very small microscopic tears in the muscle tissue. During recovery immediately after a workout, the body sends antibodies to the sites of the tears to fight infection. Internally, the presence of these antibodies starts a mild inflammation, much like when you get a minor scratch your skin.
But in addition, within one or two hours after your workout the sites also receive a dose of proteins, growth factors, testosterone, and satellite cells. These both repair the damaged muscle strands and grow new ones. This process lasts from two to three days. The end result is that the soreness subsides and the muscles are stronger than they were before.
Completing this stress/recovery process through exercise is essential for older adults because it has been shown by research to slow, even sometimes reverse, the muscle wasting (called sarcopenia) that starts in early middle age and accelerates through the years.
There is no way to perform high quality workouts and not experience some soreness later. This is especially true in the Younger Games because with the steady mix of resistance, power, and intensity, as well as an emphasis on total body exercise, many different muscles are challenged at each session. However, because no two consecutive sessions are the same and we use a variety of exercises with a limited number of repetitions, by design muscles get ample time to recover and avoid overuse or injury.
Soreness is not an objective in itself. A good workout doesn’t necessarily mean you should feel very sore the next day. Soreness is spread throughout the muscles that were worked, say your hips or shoulders, not only in a specific joint. There’s a soreness sweet spot where you are gently reminded of the muscles you worked, maybe you are able to connect it to a specific exercise, but you’re fully capable of enjoying everyday activities.
Knowing some soreness comes with the territory, the question arises: What can be done to minimize it?
- Remaining well-hydrated both during and after exercise will help because ample fluid in your body assists rapid healing.
- Some find using a foam roller can lessen it, although this is of more help with the larger muscles in the legs than with smaller muscles.
- If the soreness is interrupting your sleep, you can take a NSAID like ibuprofen, although it’s better not to get into that habit because frequent use these drugs can cause serious side effects.
- Finally, if you feel too sore to exercise, skip a class. Do some easy cardio like go for a walk or ride a bike. Do some yoga.
When you exercise week to week, you find that soreness sweet spot where it doesn’t last long or get in your way. You’ll become stronger, then it’s time to workout and feel sore again to get even stronger. That’s how it all works.