Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: The Real Culprit

Why Some People Hate Exercise

I used to hate volleyball tryouts. All summer long, I got to do as I pleased and then August would come around and I would go through a week of tryouts designed to make you wish you weren’t alive see who was fit/talented/tall enough to be on the team.

I can remember one day after 4 hours of tryouts, I was lying on the ground underneath the telephone when it rang. I really tried to get up. I promise! But, because I was so sore from tryouts, I couldn’t. I did eventually make it to my feet, but by that time the phone had stopped ringing. That’s a good 5-7 rings it took me to just stand up and answer the phone.

It really seems like a simple thing.
Girl lying on ground below phone + Phone rings + Girl uses legs to stand up + Girl picks up phone + Girl says hello

Could. Not. Do. It.
Why? I was sore. More sore than I have ever been in my life.

Unfortunately, muscle soreness is one thing that can keep people from going back to a workout. While, they may have enjoyed the lunges at the time, the next couple of days can be so miserable trying to walk down the hall, that they may never do them again.

I think part of the reason people have a negative response to muscle soreness is that they don’t really understand it.

In order to help you find a greater appreciation for muscle soreness, I decided to write a quick note on what’s really happening.

Lesson One: Skeletal Muscle Contraction

Everyone has two major “filaments” or pieces of your muscle fiber that contract. You have a 1 thick filament surrounded by 2 thin filaments on either side. When your neuron fires (telling your muscle to contract) several different things happen; but, the end result of all these things will move the two thin filaments closer together to shorten the muscle fiber and contract. In order to do this, your thick filament remains stable (like an anchor) and use little oar like things that reach out and grab the thin filament to help it slide together and shorten/contract. When this happens, your muscle can contract to move your arm where it needs to go. I’ll draw you a picture to help.

Here’s a video if you’re still not getting it.The only thing you really need to understand is that the Actin (thin filament) and Myosin (thick filament) have to be able to find one another in order to contract.

When You Get Sore…

Have you ever heard that soreness is from something called “Lactic Acid Buildup?” Most of the time, that’s what you’ll hear from the general public. You’d hear something different from an exercise physiologist. Here’s the real steps to DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)

  1. Strenuous Exercise
  2. Structural damage to muscle cells
  3. Calcium Leaks out from Sarcoplasmic Reticulum
  4. Protease (an enzyme that breaks down proteins aka. muscles) activation
  5. Inflammatory response
  6. Edema and pain
  7. Rebuilding of muscle fiber – stronger and better than before.

The real reason you’re sore two days later is not from “Lactic Acid Buildup.” It’s from the fact that your muscle cells are torn to shreds and they’re trying to rebuild.

There are two different types of muscle damage:

  1. Streaming – imagine nice orderly lines of actin and myosin drawn in chalk and then imagine someone dragging their fingers through the image. That’s what this looks like under a microscope.
  2. Smearing – image the same nice image on a chalkboard, but now it’s not just fingers dragging through, they took the whole palm of their hand and wiped all over the drawing. You can’t see seperate lines anymore. It’s all a mess.

With streaming and smearing, the problem is that your actin and myosin can’t find each other as quickly to contract. Unfortunately, the cells are all a jumble of actin and myosin strands and the little oars that are supposed to move them together can’t find anything to bind with. This is the exact reason I couldn’t get off the floor to answer the phone.

The nice thing… The more you exercise, the less you experience soreness.

That’s why athletes will typically think they’ve done something
amazing if they feel sore the next day.

“I’m sore today.” (proud face).

In time, your muscles will condition just like anything else and you’ll have to find heavier weights and different methods to make them work in new ways to create soreness. It’s like throwing a curveball in there to see if your muscles can handle it.

The next time you’re sore – be proud. You’ve found a new way to work your muscles.

One thought on “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: The Real Culprit

  1. Pingback: Job Opportunities, New Friends, and Sore Muscles | thebeetingheart

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