Soreness is a condition commonly brought on when an athlete is either a beginner, making a change in his/her program, or getting after it on one of those incredibly hard gym days. If you are like me, it is a slight obsession. If I do not feel sore, I feel as though I didn't work hard enough. While many athletes have this mentality and it is not necessarily a bad mentality, if you aren't getting sore after every workout, it doesn't mean your workout isn't effective.
The culprit of true muscle soreness is not lactic acid as so many articles insinuate, but it is a result of delayed onset muscle soreness ("DOMS"). DOMS is a result of microscopic tears that your muscles endure during the workout. This is why over time if you do the same program with the same weight, muscle soreness stops, it is because your muscles have adapted and are no longer experiencing microscopic tears. This is why it is always good to change your workout every 6-8 weeks to constantly keep your body guessing and induce muscle growth.
Preventing Muscle Soreness
All in all, it is virtually impossible to prevent soreness, but rather minimizing both the frequency and the severity in which it occurs. Two hotly contested practices are stretching and supplementation.
Stretching - The research is virtually split on whether stretching prior to a workout will minimize muscle soreness, with some studies showing that stretching prior to a workout can actually aggravate the muscles and increase the likelihood of an injury. It is now widely accepted that a short pre-workout to warm your muscles up is ideal (i.e. air squats, jogging, etc.) and leaving the stretching, foam rolling and other techniques for your post training regimen.
Branch Chain Amino Acids - Some research also suggests that Branch Chain Amino Acids ("BCAAs") reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery. BCAAs increase protein synthesis and reduce muscle breakdown, which in turn conserves tissues during intense training. After studies with athletes who supplemented with BCAAs versus those who didn't, the creatine kinase (a marker of muscle damage) was much lower in those individuals who took BCAAs suggesting that BCAAs perseveres the integrity of the muscle fibers for less pain post-workout. Luckily LuaVive's ReFuel has BCAAs for this very reason.
Icing - Icing the sore muscle directly has been shown to reduce inflammation and muscle soreness.
Alternating Hot and Cold Showers/Saunas – Some studies suggest alternating hot and cold showers may improve blood circulation and alleviate soreness. Hot showers dilate blood vessels but can simultaneously increase inflammation, which is why alternating it with a cold shower is ideal. Additionally, using a steam room will increase blood flow, forcing fresh blood and new nutrients into the muscle tissue.
Train Through Soreness – Research shows that muscles are designed to recuperate from microtrauma even while undergoing current rounds of trauma. Soreness minimizes once the body adapts, therefore the premise is to continue to training on a frequent basis for your body to adapt. Waiting until muscle soreness is gone, will guarantee soreness as the athlete never gets adapted to a sufficient workload to stop getting sore.
While muscle soreness may be an inconvenience and it not always conducive to being productive in our everyday life, it should be worn as a badge of honor. Knowing that you are working your muscles to a point where they experience microscopic tears that rebuild stronger in just a few days is pretty freaking awesome.