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Are sore muscles a badge of honor, or a warning sign?

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So, you got motivated and you went to work out for the first time in a long time. You were gung-ho, excited and just barely survived it, but when it was over you thought, “I’ve still got it!”

Until you woke up the next day and could barely get out of bed. Maybe you got run over by a train in your sleep?

There is a likely explanation that the real culprit is four little letters: DOMS, or “delayed onset muscle soreness.”

If you have ever worked out after a long break, run a course with a lot of downhill, lifted weights, taken a step class or hiked up and down some big hills, then you may have experienced DOMS.

Our muscles sometimes become sore from doing something new or different. If this has happened to you, then consider yourself normal.

DOMS is thought to be caused by tiny micro tears in your muscles. In order to build muscle, we must basically break down muscle to build those fibers back stronger.

DOMS is also associated with the prolonged eccentric part of an exercise. The eccentric part of an exercise is the lengthening part of a two-part series. For instance, in a biceps curl, the eccentric part of the exercise is lowering the arm back to starting position. In a squat, the eccentric phase is lowering your body towards the floor. In a push-up, the eccentric part is the lowering stage.

When this happens, you can be sore for 24-72 hours. Your muscles can be sore to the touch. But rest assured it will pass. Not soon enough, but it will pass.

So, when DOMS happens, what can you do?

1.Take a few days off from the exercise that made you sore to begin with. The next day it is OK to do some light exercise like walking or swimming or even a recumbent bike. Avoid working the sore area, unless you do it ever so lightly. But keep moving. Sometimes doing nothing can make it worse.

2. Be sure to drink plenty of water, as this helps to flush out the toxins and waste products from your body. No matter what the drink companies tell us, water is best (unless you are running a marathon or something like that.)

3. You can apply heat or ice therapy. There are many different ideas on which one is best, but that is another article for another day. I think the best therapy is the one that works for you.

4. Massaging the affected area is great, too. I recommend using a foam roller specifically for deep tissue massage.

5. Don’t let soreness scare you away for trying new things.

So, what if you never experience DOMS? Does that mean you are doing it all wrong? No, not at all.

Some people may never experience DOMS because their workouts are milder and don’t utilize those prolonged eccentric phases, comparable to what we use in weight-lifting. Or maybe they repeat the same old workout over and over and over. You can still achieve your goals without experiencing soreness.

Many think it is a badge of honor and that being sore is good. But continued soreness is not good. Your body will adapt to the stresses of exercise, but it should not have to be in pain to do so.

Pain that doesn’t dissipate after a few days is not normal. Losing range of motion is not normal.

Make sure your workout is well rounded with gradual progressions. Gradually progressing will keep soreness at bay.

Of course, if you do some majorly drastic exercise your body is not yet accustomed to, then you can expect to be sore. But you wouldn’t do that, would you?

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer and  manager of the Oxford YMCA. Her fitness column appears the third Sunday of each month.