Remember how sore you were that time your friend invited you to the gym? It felt like you were going to die, right? But did you die? No! Instead, you not only got over it in a day or two, but you felt better after working out than you did before.
When we perform exercises and movements that the body is unaccustomed to, they can trigger muscle soreness up to a day or two afterwards. That dull achy pain is referred to as “muscle fever” or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Many people wonder what causes the soreness, and, more importantly, if it’s normal or harmful. Here, I’ll explain the causes, benefits and how you can manage the pain after workouts.
The old adage "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" does, on some level, have scientific support. DOMS is a perfect example of this. We know that overloading – lifting heavier than normal weight to achieve a desired result – is key to adding to the muscle’s size and strength. This is quite often the case with what are known as eccentric exercises – movements that lengthen the muscle while it contracts. For example, think of when you lower a weight while doing a bicep curl and contract the muscle to lift it back up. The down motion of squats and bench presses are other examples.
Muscle fever doesn’t stop most people from working out because sculpted, toned muscles are worth the temporary discomfort. Nonetheless, a great way to prevent the pain is to ease into a new program and thereby allow the muscles to adapt to the new stress and perform the exercises slowly if you are just getting started. If you are still hurting post workout, try foam rolling right after, an Epsom salt bath and aerobic activities like walking, swimming or biking.
Lastly, as with any exercise and healthy living regimen, drink plenty of water, get some sleep and rest so your body can recharge itself!