Discomfort is an integral part of strength training. In order to increase muscular strength, power or endurance, you need to move beyond the comfortable. (I’ve been known to tell my class participants “discomfort is where the magic happens”)
Sometimes discomfort is temporary. For example, when you’re completing the final repetition of an exercise set.
Sometimes it doesn’t make an appearance until the day after a strength training session. Not causing pain, but remaining with you for another day or two.
Sometimes it begins during or immediately after your workout and continues for days, weeks or even months.
Knowing the difference between mild temporary discomfort, moderate intensity longer term discomfort and immediate, long lasting muscular pain is important as if affects how you respond to the discomfort and whether you require medical attention.
1. Muscular discomfort that occurs towards the end of an exercise set is referred to as muscle fatigue.
Muscle fatigue is the consequence of a variety of physiological changes within the working muscle, including lactic acid build up (“feel the burn”), increased tissue acidity, nerve impulse interference and chemical energy depletion (“hitting the wall”). It is typically mild, temporary in duration and the discomfort passes once you cease performing the exercise.
Rx? Take a break, perform a different exercise and stretch it out before beginning your next set. No other attention required.
2. Muscular discomfort that doesn’t manifest until 24 to 48 hours following a strength training session is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS is typically associated with eccentric muscle contractions (the non-working phase of a lift) and is most likely the result of microscopic tears in the muscle or connective tissue. It can range from mild (just a bit of stiffness) to severe (sitting on the toilet is painful) and may take a day or two to diminish. (Personally, I enjoy feeling a bit of mild DOMS; it reminds me that I worked hard in the gym and have pushed myself well outside my comfort zone!)
Rx? Depending on the severity of the discomfort, you may need to take a day or two away from strength training the affected muscle group. Suggestions for alleviating the discomfort include warm baths, stretching, range of motion body weight movements and acetaminophen. No need to see a doctor of physiotherapist required.
Note that DOMS is NOT a sign of overtraining, just over-doing it on a particular set of exercises on a particular day.
3. Intense muscular discomfort that begins during or immediately after your workout and continues for several days or weeks is most likely due to a muscular strain. Strains are classified as mild, moderate or, in the case of a tear or complete rupture, severe. Strains can occur within the body of the muscle or in the tendon (the area of the muscle that attaches directly to the bone).
Rx? Regardless of severity, all muscular strains should be seen by a health care professional. The sooner the better. Although strains heal on their own, the scar tissue that results from the body laying down new collagen tissue is often weak and tight, thereby limiting your range of motion at the joint unless treated by a physiotherapist or chiropractor. Note that strains of the tendon typically take much longer to heal than comparably severe strains of the muscle itself (I can attest to this personally; it’s now been 7 weeks since I strained my Achilles tendon and despite daily stretch and strength therapy, I’m still not 100% ).
Interested in learning more about DOMS and how to treat it? Check out the end of this post by A Doctor In the House (she’s included some scientific references to support the ideas; I love it when bloggers do that!)
Have you ever experienced DOMS or a muscular strain?
Do you enjoy a bit of discomfort in your muscles about a strength training session?