Bodybuilders are certainly not strangers to muscle soreness. Anyone who trains with weights, or does any intense anaerobic exercise, knows the muscle soreness that accompanies it. This soreness is due to a combination of factors. The thing to remember is that this soreness is not the same as injury soreness. Injury soreness requires medical attention, muscle soreness from a workout requires rest and other recovery techniques.
So, what causes this muscle soreness?
The soreness felt in the muscles during, and initially after, a workout is caused by a build up of lactic acid and other waste products of the metabolic processes in the muscles. During the workout the muscles are damaged with micro-tears in the fibers and myofilaments, and this damage leads to swelling and inflammation that increases the level, and duration, of the soreness.
This soreness can last from 24 hours to several days. The more micro-damage the muscles sustain the longer the inflammation and swelling may be present. The muscles will be stiff and sore until this is completely repaired.
Is this soreness necessary?
Since the soreness is a result of the trauma sustained during intense workouts, and this trauma is what leads to muscular growth (hypertrophy), the soreness does go hand in hand with the training needed to build muscle. As the body gets used to a particular workout the soreness will subside slightly. However, it is important to remember what the soreness represents; a tearing down and rebuilding of muscle tissue.
Can the soreness be reduced?
Obviously, avoiding intense workouts would reduce, or eliminate, muscle soreness, but, as a bodybuilder, skipping hard workouts is not an option. There are some methods to reduce muscle soreness after an intense workout. Any one of the methods will help reduce it some, but combining methods may multiply the effect, and lead to more comfort and quicker recovery time.
Ibuprofen taken before a workout can significantly reduce post workout soreness in some people, even more effectively than the same medication taken post workout. Since Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory it may help to reduce the swelling and inflammation that causes the pain.
Massage has also been shown to reduce soreness from a workout, and speed recovery time. The massaging action helps to increase blood flow and remove the waste products in the muscle. It also reduces the swelling in the muscle. It can also increase pain-relieving hormones and break up scar tissue in the muscle.
Light exercise, or exercising other muscle groups, can lead to an increase in blood flow and reduction in overall inflammation. This can also lead to light stretching of the affected muscle. Stretching the affected area after a light warm up of cardiovascular work for 12 to 15 minutes can also speed recovery and reduce soreness.
Is training through soreness safe?
Training other body parts, as stated above, may reduce soreness in the recovering muscle group. Training a muscle when it is sore can be safe, under certain conditions. Any training that causes the muscle soreness to increase should be discontinued.
Light training, with high repetitions, can be done with a muscle that is sore. Aerobic work, or high repetition anaerobic work (such as sprinting, plyometrics, etc) at 75% or less of maximum intensity, may also be safe. Heavy training with a muscle that is not fully recovered may put additional stress on the muscle, and the tendons, and could lead to injury, or at best increase total recovery time.
When dealing with muscle soreness it is important to remember that soreness due to intense training is a good thing. It means the muscle has sustained some micro-damage and will repair and be bigger and stronger. Training other body parts or doing light aerobic work is perfectly safe and may even decrease the soreness. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and massage may also help reduce soreness. And, an important key point to remember is that the muscles recover and get bigger and stronger during rest, not during the workout, so use the soreness as a guide to determine when to train the muscle again.