Some muscle soreness is acceptable after a new workout.
Feeling sore or tender after an intense workout is completely normal. Soreness usually manifests eight to 10 hours after exercise and can peak as long as 48 hours post-workout. Excessive soreness that prevents you from doing basic activities, such as walking or lifting your arms above your head, is not always the sign of a good workout, though. Soreness is an indication that your body has been stressed and needs recovery -- so even though it's OK to feel sore, heed the warning.
What Causes Soreness
Muscle soreness that shows up a day or two after your workout is called DOMS, or delayed-onset muscle soreness. Soreness happens as a result of microtears in the muscle fibers. The extent of your soreness depends on your fitness level, your experience with the exercise and the intensity of the exercise session. Someone experienced in strength training may feel no soreness after benching and squatting light weights, while a newbie may be aching for days afterward. If that experienced lifter added new exercises or greatly increased his weight, though, he might notice DOMS for a day or two afterwards.
While any type of muscle contraction can cause DOMS soreness, eccentric contractions are the most common offenders. Eccentric contractions occur during the lengthening phase of an exercise. For example, standing up out of a squat, the upward phase of a bench press or extending your elbows toward your thighs during a bicep curl are eccentric contractions.
Do You Have to Be Sore?
Soreness isn't necessarily an indication that you completed a good workout. As long as you work to induce muscle fatigue during your weight-training session, you've had a successful workout. University of New Mexico exercise physiologist Len Kravitz notes that beginners who use about 50 percent of their one-repetition maximum, the most weight they can lift one time, for all of their sets experience less muscle damage and recover more quickly. For beginners, reducing the extent and severity of soreness may help increase exercise adherence.
Once you can easily pump through 12 repetitions of a weight-training exercise and experience no soreness the next day, it may be time to change things up so you continue to see results. Try adding 5 to 10 percent more weight, introducing new exercises or adding additional sets of existing exercises. Make these changes every four to six weeks. When you do alter your routine, you may feel sore again for one to two days after the workout -- but as your body adapts, incidences of post-workout soreness should subside.
What to Do
If did overdo it and your soreness is interfering with your ability to rise from your chair or wash your hair, you can alleviate some of the pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers and topical pain-relieving ointments can help, as does rest. Light exercise may not be something you feel like doing, but it can help improve circulation and reduce pain. Swimming or a brisk walk are appropriately light and palliative. Drink lots of water; "Men's Fitness" explains that dehydration aggravates soreness. If your soreness fails to subside, is accompanied by swelling or discoloration or increases in severity, consult a health care provider to rule out a serious injury.