Why Is Working Out so Painful?

working out

Working out, is it painful? Most people know that they’ve had an impactful session of exercise when they experience soreness following the episode or the next day. Some like the ‘burn’ and translate the impact as the assurance of good gains towards their goal. Others have a contrasting image of the effect with the impression it could be the result of damage for which they need to take time off from working out to let it heal. 

Straining muscles through exercise constitutes a trauma as you are instigating microscopic tears within the muscles as you work. The repair/recovery phase is what causes hypertrophy or muscle growth. The ‘pain’ differentiates from an injurious pain as it is most often a dull ache as compared to sharp jolts of pain.

We’ll talk more here about why it sometimes hurts “so good,” why it’s usually OK and when it’s something else that requires consultation with a doctor.

The Pain Is Real – And Usually, It’s OK!

This muscle soreness is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or (DOMS), which is basically the act of overloading the muscles until they develop these tears in the fibers bringing the pain.

After recovery, the muscles grow and become stronger. This process of soreness and recovery continues as you intensify your workout and continue to put a strain on these fibers. DOMs do not happen instantly with the resultant pain arising up to two days beyond the exercise with no medical attention necessary. Understanding the difference between this and an injury is essential.

Do You Work Beyond DOMS, or Wait It Out?

Some take it easy for a few days after a strenuous workout, thinking it’s better to wait for the pain to fully subside. The problem with someone discontinuing a regimen for an extended period of time means when they resume, the muscles will have tightened up significantly.

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Working out these newly muscles has the potential to ultimately result in more soreness post the first workout when they go back, meaning it can do more harm than good. It’s better just to continue the workout, but by working different muscles and doing ample warm-ups, cool-downs, and stretching along the way.

However, for anyone who believes they aren’t just sore and have done some kind of damage due to the workout, you must see a doctor for evaluation and treatment. Tears of muscles, ligaments, or tendons will bring instant pain and require medical attention.

Why Do Workouts Result In So Much Pain?

Immediate soreness following an exercise program is often due to an accumulation of lactic acid, which is common when engaging in anaerobic activities. Generally, the lactic acid will dissipate from the body after approximately an hour post-exercise. There are no preventative measures for this other than decreasing the level of intensity of the workout. 

Soreness that develops after a period of between 24 and 72 hours following exercise is often the result of the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness condition, as discussed previously. The ideal way to relieve this discomfort is to relax the muscle group for a period of approximately 24 hours and then get back into the regimen as soon as possible.

The important thing is to employ a substantial warm-up before you begin, complete with adequate stretching to keep things loose.

DOMs are especially prevalent among those just initiating fitness into their lifestyle or anyone that is advancing, especially if you’re doing so relatively quickly. When muscles are repeatedly worked under similar circumstances with the appropriate amount of rest and recovery, the soreness will diminish over time until it disappears.

Working out in this way has the designation as ‘the repeated-bout effect.’ If you’re having difficulty enduring the amount of soreness you’re experiencing, it’s a good idea to decrease the intensity or the weight that you’re using until the time that your body begins to adjust gradually.

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Is It Harmful To Workout With Sore Muscles?

Each muscle group that you engage when working out requires an adequate amount of recovery time post-exercise to repair from the ‘damage’ that it receives from the strenuous activity.

It is during this phase of the regimen that the growth aspect takes place and the muscle develops its strength and durability. It’s merely a matter of determining how much time a particular muscle group requires for its recovery. The rule of thumb is as follows:

  • For smaller groups of muscles, including areas such as biceps and triceps, the approximation is up to 48 hours for recovery.
  • For larger groups of muscles as with areas including the back and the chest, the notion is that it will take approximately 72 hours for recovery.

This doesn’t mean you should stop working out for days at a time – instead, alternate your muscle groups.

Don’t Overdo It

If you don’t allow time for your muscle groups to rest and repair but rather work them consistently for a matter of days, the results are:

  • Denied recovery time, continued damage to the muscles.
  • Not receiving the optimal benefit from the routine because the group of muscles has not had the opportunity to repair itself and develop, grow, become strong/durable.

The goal for many fitness buffs, particularly those who participate in strength training is to have gained in muscle growth. This process takes place only when the muscles are at rest, and the peak of this takes place when you’re sleeping.

So ideally, you need to ensure that you get in your eight hours, which is the recommendation, and take proper breaks between your fitness sessions for which you’re engaging the same muscle groups. Anything less, and it won’t be possible to accomplish any realistic goals.

The Best Methods Used To Recover From DOMs

working out

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMs is inevitable with fitness, particularly for those who strength train and have an interest in muscle growth. Abusing muscles and then allowing them time to fix the damage is the path that needs to be taken in an effort to make these groups strong, stable, and healthy.

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But there are steps that you can take with your exercise plan that will make the DOMs a little more bearable, such as deep stretching before and after the session to loosen the muscles and prepare for the activity.

DOMs are something you will experience if you are just beginning a new exercise platform, if you’ve decided to change to an alternate regimen, or if you intensify the program for which you are currently engaged.

  • A good habit is to work out approximately three to four days a week, with each day attributed to a particular muscle group.
  • In between each session, that muscle group is going to need adequate time for rest and repair so that the goal for muscle growth and increased strength is attainable.

Some things can be done to help the process along during the resting phase to repair the muscle groups. While you’re in this phase for a specific group of muscles, it’s vital to get the blood flowing through the muscles for them to recover more rapidly.

The same can be said for injuries as well. The best way to do this is to massage the area. Merely sitting stagnant will result in lengthier recovery times. Stretches and massaging with some potential light leg work using a foam roller will result in much faster repair for the group and a quicker return to the gym.

You Have to Suffer to Improve

Unfortunately, each time you reach a new goal with your fitness, you will either need to expand on that goal or maintain. Most people become bored with the plateau phase and choose to move forward with their plan after they’ve become comfortable.

In saying that, these same people at this point likely are experiencing little soreness. But the moment your exercise regimen is increased or intensified; your muscles are going to feel the burn. It will be as if you’ve started from scratch. 

The DOMs aren’t necessarily a bad thing unless you’re, in fact, experiencing a genuine injury for which medical treatment should be sought. As far as the typical soreness, there’s an appropriate saying to cover that, “no pain, no gain.’ In this particular situation, that’s quite literal.


Empowering minds and bodies through my fitness journey! Passionate fitness enthusiast and blogger on a mission to inspire and motivate. Transforming lives one post at a time with evidence-based workouts, nutrition tips, and a sprinkle of wellness wisdom. Join me on this sweaty adventure to unlock your full potential and cultivate a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Let's break a sweat, embrace the grind, and celebrate the victories together! ✨ #FitLife #WellnessWarrior #FitnessBlogger"

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