We’ve all been there.
Taken leg day a bit too hard, then spent the next 5 days wishing you had hand rails next to the loo. Finding excuses not to use the stairs. Wincing when the cat jumps on your legs.
No pain, no gain. Right?
Well – yes and no.
Training – of any kind – breaks down muscle tissue. We get fitter, stronger, bigger etc because the human body is frankly amazing, and each time it’s challenged it does it’s utmost to improve and be able to face that challenge better next time.
It tries to do this whatever you throw at it. It tries to repair, recover and rebuild to do it all over again.
So, the aches are natural. Normal. Part of the process.
But the severity of aching? That is where we can start negotiating!
Loads of factors affect how much you ache, and how quickly you recover. Here’s some:
Frequency of training
Train once a week? You’re always going to hurt after training sessions. You just don’t train often enough for your body to make the necessary improvements. Every session feels hard because you’re always pretty much just starting over.
This can even apply to training a body-part once a week. “Leg day” or “chest day” guys/girls are always going to ache the next day, even when they’ve trained for years. They hit the area with a tonne of volume, around 7 days after doing it last. The body has no choice but to respond with inflammation and muscle breakdown. The problem is, for most people, training a body part once a week just doesn’t work – you have to do so much volume in one session that you risk injury, and the recovery is simply more arduous than it needs to be.
The more frequently you train – both in terms of overall sessions, and frequency of training a body part/movement – the less you’ll ache. Goes against what you “think” should happen, but it’s true.
Think sleep is for the weak? Hydration is beer and coffee? McDonald’s is gourmet nutrition? You’re going to ache more than someone who aims for 8hrs, gets in 4/5 pints of water, eats some veg and gets enough protein.
You can pretend recovery isn’t important, but you’re are only pretending. It gets more important with age.
Can’t touch your toes? Resemble a hunchback after a day at the office?
You’re going to ache more than someone who’s muscles and joints experience a normal range of motion. Weight training in particular forces a larger range of motion into muscles than you’ll get in everyday life – so throw in a muscle being aggressively stretched, and loaded, and you’ve got a recipe for WAY more aching than someone a little more supple.
Less pain? Work on mobility. If you need 100kg on the bar to force yourself to parallel on a squat, it might be an idea to work on getting looser.
Type of training
Touched on this above, but what type of training you do has an impact.
Cardio (running/rowing/bike etc) is unlikely to give you incapacitating aches beyond the first few sessions. It’s pretty easy for the body to get over.
Weight training, done properly with a progressive plan, can be done without causing any real discomfort. It’s pretty individual though, so it’s hard to judge what a complete beginner can do. Less is usually a good place to start – if you’ve never squatted before, then probably 3 or 4 sets of bodyweight squats will be enough to cause significant ouch.
Bootcamps can be horrendous for aches, because of the high rep, high impact nature. Many seem to include a lot of plyometrics (jumping around under load) which as well as being useless for most people, causes high levels of muscle damage – and therefore pain.
Anything you’ve never done before, or anything significantly difference to what you’re used to, will cause muscle ache. That’s why you ache more when you start a new training plan, than when you’re 8 weeks into one. That DOESN’T mean the more you ache, the harder you’ve worked. Often, it means the opposite – you’ve just done something new, and often not that much of it, and not that heavy! New exercises, new rep/set ranges, a different bar, change of stance or grip = all lead to the body aching as a result of adapting to a new stimulus.
It’s OK to ache after training. In some cases it’s necessary. But aches should never ALWAYS be debilitating or affect your everyday life. If you’re finding that training is leaving you in constant discomfort, you need to address at least one of the things above!