What is “Normal” Muscle Soreness

April 3, 2023

We’ve all been there after we’ve done a harder than usual workout or began a new exercise regimen. During you feel great and you’re getting your sweat on, then it happens – the “it hurts to get up from the toilet” kind of soreness where your body is telling you that you may have overdone it. Now the thoughts are racing through your mind saying, “is this normal?” or “how am I supposed to get better if I feel worse?”. There is a variety of different options to be able to manage your soreness including monitoring your RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion), hydration and nutrition.

Before we get into ways to manage your post-activity soreness, let’s go over what is happening within the body after new activity or exercise. The muscles in your body need energy in order to move, but the way you generate the energy to move them can vary depending on the activity you’re doing. When we initiate new movement, muscle soreness can occur because the muscle and connective tissues are “damaged” during exercise. This is a very normal process as this needs to occur in order to have muscle growth which allows your muscle to rebuild stronger after the repair process. This process may not occur directly after you perform an activity, it may take 24 to 72 hours after performing this activity. This process is called DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness. However, muscle soreness is not always the result you’re looking for following a workout. Muscle soreness does not determine a good or “bad” workout, any movement is better than no movement.

So, what is “normal” soreness? This is very different from person to person depending on prior activity levels, nutrition, hydration, age and other factors. However, a good rule of thumb would be anything that doesn’t prevent you from completing normal daily activities. If it prevents you from completing said activities or is lasting more than 48-72 hours, it could be a sign that it may have been too intense.

How do I manage soreness? There are a few precursors that can assist with you bypassing soreness such as nutrition and hydration. As you begin to amp up your activity, you should also consider amping up your diet with nutrient dense foods to assist with absorbing nutrients, reduce inflammation and assist with the recovery process. Foods that can benefit you would be lean, non-processed proteins such as chicken, fish, beef or turkey, whole grains, green vegetables (or any vegetable!) to assist with fiber intake and fruits such as berries that have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Also consuming complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, apples, carrots, etc. as these are slow digesting to steady the release of glucose into the blood stream which helps to restore your glycogen levels. This allows the body to use the glycogen for energy instead of breaking down muscle tissue for energy. Hydration is also extremely important as your muscles are made of 79% water! Dehydration will pull fluid out of your muscles which can cause overall body aches and pains. The average person should aim to drink a minimum 64 ounces of water which is roughly eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.

Lastly, RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion is a great way for you to self- monitor how hard you’re working. This is a scale from 0-10 with 0 being nothing at all and 10 being very, very intense. When working out, you should be aiming for a 6-7 RPE meaning you can demonstrate good control throughout the workout while still pushing yourself. The main objective is, “Quality over Quantity” meaning better movement technique means more in the long run compared to poor technique that can result in injury. If you are feeling sore after a workout, you can reduce your RPE to perform gentle, lower-level movement to continue to promote blood flow which will also assist with a quicker recovery!