Muscle Recovery 101

Grueling training sessions mean muscle soreness. It’s proof that you are working hard and getting stronger. It is also the body’s way of telling you that it is time for some quality rest and relaxation, because without time to recover, your body won’t heal effectively. Understanding this is the first piece of a puzzle that will help you grasp how the body operates and how to optimize the recovery process, so you can get back in the game faster than before.

Take a seat and get ready for some note-taking. It’s time for Muscle Recovery 101.

Two Kinds of Muscle Soreness

There are two kinds of muscle soreness:

1. Acute Muscle Soreness – the feel-good burn that happens during your workout from lactic acid or immediately afterward. Acute muscle soreness is rather mild and doesn’t linger. Most people welcome this kind of muscle soreness because it proves that you were pushing yourself.

2. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) – the type of soreness that happens 1-2 days after a workout that makes you feel incapable of any motion. This is the soreness that can keep people from working out or even leaving the couch.

Acute muscle soreness and DOMS are theorized to happen for a few reasons. One of those would be the Principle of Adaptation, which states that when the body undergoes stress, the body will attempt to adapt to the stress being placed upon it. In other words, just like you learned how to ride a bike or swim, the body learns how to become more efficient at working out. That is why you can gradually work from lifting 10 pounds to 100 pounds. Once you adapt, the soreness stops.


Muscle Soreness

The Myth of Lactic Acid

Before science waltzed in and gave us the world of exercise science and exercise physiology, the core belief was the lactic acid build-up caused muscle soreness. Lactic acid is not purely at fault for aches and pains in the muscles. Post-exercise soreness, whether acute or DOMS, is caused by damage done to the muscle fibers, inflammation, and free radical damage.

Basically, when you workout, you stress the muscle fibers, and they get inflamed.

Therefore, lactic acid is not responsible for delayed onset muscle soreness. It only plays a role in the burning you feel during repetitions.

DOMS, on the other hand, continues to be a mystery. Why it happens more severely for some and never for others, why it happens at all—no one knows exactly. Researchers have stated that DOMS might be a byproduct of the inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the connective tissues and muscles that have sensitive receptors and thus react more highly to pain. As long as you understand that, you can better understand the importance of rest and recovery.

What Happens During Short and Long Term Recovery

As mentioned earlier, the more you workout, the more damage you are doing to your body. Eventually, this could result in overtraining syndrome, a condition that causes you to feel burned out, tired, lethargic, and is accompanied by headaches, pain in the muscles and joints, insomnia, moodiness, lack of appetite, depression, and addiction to exercise. Overtraining syndrome is not easy to recover from, so you want to avoid that scenario.

To ward off overtraining syndrome, you build recovery time into your training regimen. It’s during recovery that you will see the changes to your body happening. Not only does the body gain time to adapt to the load that was placed upon it, but it will also replenish energy stories, repair damage, and decrease the lack of injury.

There are two kinds of recovery: 

  • Short-term recovery, or active recovery – occurs within minutes to hours after immediate exercise. Sometimes this involves a “cool-down” sequence, involving stretching, relaxing breathing, and self-myofascial release or massage. The other part of short-term recovery is post-workout nutrition.
  • Long-term recovery – these are the techniques built into a routine, such as rest days or the weeks taken off between competition preparation. Some athletes will add cross-training, modify their workouts, or make progressive changes to their workouts to lessen the load.

The Myth of Lactic Acid

Proven Ways To Speed Up Recovery

The recovery phase shouldn’t be underestimated or disregarded. If you want to re-energize your body and come back for rest stronger than before, consider these proven ways to boost muscle recovery:

7-8 Hours Quality Sleep

Sleep deprivation can kill you. If you are running of 4-5 hours of sleep a night and working out, you are setting yourself up for overtraining syndrome or an injury. Moreover, inadequate rest has been shown to cause a raise in cortisol, decreased activity of the human growth hormone (which is needed for tissue repair) and decreased glycogen synthesis (meaning less reserved energy).

Drink Plenty of Water

Water helps nourish the muscles, rid the body of toxins, and prevent dehydration. When your muscles are dehydrated, the pain will be amplified.


You might not be injured, per se; but you might want to consider resting, icing, compressing, and elevating any muscles that feel too sore to move. Applying an ice pack to uber sore muscles for about 20 minutes every 2 hours will help decrease inflammation.

Roll Out The Kinks

Foams rollers are a cheap option to getting massage or acupuncture. Plus, you foam roll, also known as Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), wherever and whenever. Research has proven that foam rollers break up the nodules in the muscle tissue and fascia that cause sore muscles and joints. Spend a few minutes before and after a workout rolling out the muscles. Remember to spend about 10-20 seconds pressing the node into the foam roller to get it to dissolve.

Don’t Forget Nutrition

The muscles need fuel to recover, just as much as they need fuel to get you through a workout. Drink a protein shake or chocolate milk after your workout. Eat a high-protein meal before bed, and consider piling up on high-protein foods like eggs, oatmeal, nut butters, yogurt, and lean meats during your rest day to help with protein synthesis. You might also want to consider a BCAA supplement if you have been relentless.

While the saying goes “no pain, no gain,” remember that too much pain is a sign that something is wrong and that you need to rest. Soreness is beneficial to muscle growth, for, without you, you would have no evidence that you’re working out effectively. But soreness can also hinder your goals if you don’t listen to your body. Using the tips in this article, you should now know the cues that you need to rest, and you should use the proven ways to boost muscle recovery to get back on track faster.

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