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Muscles too sore? Don't overdo it

December 31, 2007|Jay Blahnik | Special to The Times

I took a body-sculpting class at my gym and was so sore the next couple of days I could hardly walk. What causes this, and do you have any suggestions to help me avoid or reduce this type of soreness in the future?

Sue

Redondo Beach

Muscle soreness generally occurs 24 to 48 hours after a tough workout and usually decreases after 72 hours. Fit people experience muscle soreness when they increase the intensity, frequency or duration of their workouts or when they change the type of exercise they do. Others feel sore when they first start exercising or when they resume workouts after taking time off.

The consensus of most fitness experts is that muscle soreness is caused by microscopic tears in the muscle and connective tissue during eccentric contractions. These are contractions in which the muscle is under tension while it is being lengthened. When doing a biceps curl, for example, the downward phase of the exercise would be the eccentric phase. Another example would be the downward phase of a bench press, because the chest muscles are under tension and lengthening as the bar is being lowered.

Eccentric contraction also can occur during cardio workouts such as stair-climbing or downhill running. This consensus would explain why most exercisers don't experience as much soreness doing non-eccentric exercises, such as a plank pose in yoga (holding the body stiff while in a push-up position).

There are many schools of thought regarding the best way to get rid of muscle soreness -- ice, massage, stretching or anti-inflammatory drugs. But there is not one proven, consistent method for relieving muscle soreness for everyone, even though any of the above methods might work for some people.

Once you have experienced muscle soreness, you probably won't feel the same level of soreness doing that activity until you increase the intensity level again, or if you take a lot of time off from that particular activity and start back up.

But you can minimize the chances of experiencing muscle soreness in the first place by reducing exercise intensity during a new activity or during any particular exercise session. And if you reduce the range of motion during the eccentric phase of an exercise (i.e., not lunging so deeply or allowing the bench press bar to come all the way down to the chest, etc.), this will probably help as well.

Any muscle soreness should be mild to moderate and might slow you down for a day or two, but it should not cause the kind of extreme (almost debilitating) soreness you have described. That kind of severe soreness is an indicator that you pushed too hard or increased your exercise intensity too quickly, which is not necessary to achieve results and might even cause injury.

Regardless of your fitness level or experience with an activity, the best prescription for eliminating or reducing muscle soreness is to avoid being overzealous.

Gradual progression will provide you with great results without nearly as much pain.

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Jay Blahnik, a Laguna Beach-based personal trainer and IDEA Health & Fitness Assn. spokesman, has appeared in more than 25 videos and is the author of "Full-Body Flexibility." He can be reached at jay@jayblahnik.com or health@latimes.com.

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