Why You Feel Sore After a Workout

After a brutal leg workout, do you struggle getting out of bed, standing up from your desk, and sitting on the toilet? It's cool; we all have those days. Have you ever wondered why you feel that way?

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) can kick in as soon as 6 hours after a workout and can last up to 2 days. This soreness can occur in any muscle group -- it's not exclusive to legs, as I'm sure you've experienced. It's not even exclusive to heavy lifting. I find it hilarious when big muscle guys get their butts handed to them by a Hatha yoga class. The class activates muscles that they're not used to working out and they experience some serious DOMS the following days after the class.

What Causes Muscle Soreness?

Contrary to popular belief, muscle soreness is not caused by a buildup of lactic acid. It's not 100% understood, but scientists state that it appears to be caused by tiny microscopic tears in muscle fibers combined with inflammation.

It's nothing to be overly concerned about. It's a natural response to putting your body through stresses it's not used to. It should feel like a dull, achy sort of pain. 

However, if you experience sharp pain, that might be a cause for concern -- such as a pulled muscle, stress fracture, or torn ligament -- and you should consult with your doctor about what you are experiencing.  

Does Soreness Prove the Effort Behind a Workout?

Nope. It's actually quite variable between individuals, even those with the same level of athleticism. Some people are more prone to soreness than others. It's also poorly correlated with actual muscle growth. 

If you pushed yourself hard in a workout, but you don't feel sore the next day, that doesn't necessarily mean you didn't push hard enough. It also doesn't necessarily mean that your muscles aren't growing. 

I'd suggest tracking your workouts and gauging your progress by your performance instead of by soreness. 

What Can You Do To Minimize Soreness?

  • Stretching before and after your workout
  • Performing a short warm up and cool down around your workout
  • Foam rolling
  • Massage
  • Ice
  • Heat
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Rest