The Importance of a Training Log

It’s a rare occasion for me to walk into the SRC or RHRC and see people working out with a training log.  Why is that?  Writing down and keeping track of each workout is so important to your success.

A training log can really be whatever you want it to be.  If you are always in the weight room, record the exercise you did, how many reps of how much weight and how many sets you performed.  Then, set a goal to lift more and see yourself progress over the weeks.  If you are an elliptical hog (that’s me!), write down the level of intensity or your estimated calories burned (although the machine is not completely accurate!), and set a goal to do the same routine at a higher intensity or burn more calories in the same amount of time.

Here are some reason why keeping a training log is worth doing:

Motivation: After a few weeks, being able to look back on how far you’ve come is so encouraging.  Maybe you can bench press 20 extra pounds or you can run a mile 25 seconds faster.  Looking over your progress will give you the confidence to push even further.

Keep You On Track: If you have a specific goal in mind, keeping a training log will hold you accountable to it.  Sometimes, people will even write down their daily workout routine a week in advanced so that they won’t skip their gym time for a nap or a repeat episode of Jersey Shore (am I the only one who is guilty of this?).  Write down everything so you can push yourself.

Evaluation:  A log will help you see what worked and what didn’t.  Maybe you’ve been stuck doing the same number of deadlifts at the same weight for weeks or your three-mile run hasn’t been getting any faster.  You can evaluate what you need to do to get to your goal, so next time you throw in some extra sets to your routine or do a few sprints during your next run.  And if you are seeing the results you want, perfect!  Keep going!

Help You Switch Things Up: After doing the same routine for a number of weeks, your body gets “used to” the workout.  This can lead to a plateau in your results.  Seeing that you’ve been doing the same old thing for the past month may encourage you to change it up – maybe the order that you typically do each exercise or even the workout entirely.  If you’ve been running a lot, try a spin class.  If you’ve been doing regular pushups, try triceps (aka triangle) pushups.  Keep your muscles guessing!

Reality Check: Let’s be honest – sometimes we don’t train as hard as we think we do.  You were at the gym for an hour, but spent three minutes between each set so it wasn’t that intense.  Writing down everything will help you see what you’ve really done.  You might realize that you do a lot of arm exercises but not enough lower-body exercises.  A log will help you see what you need to do more or less of.

Check out the few examples of training logs below!  But feel free to find one that fits YOU and your routine best!

 

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tar Heel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

Exercise While Studying!

It’s exam time and that means hours and hours of sitting while staring at a book or computer screen. Taking short exercise breaks is a great way to refresh your mind and feel rejuvenated. Hopefully, you can still make it to the gym like usual. But if you feel trapped in your room or the study lounge, don’t hesitate to push out some of these moves!

For these moves, you don’t need any equipment – you can just use your bodyweight! You can tone from head to toe by just taking a few steps away from your desk.

ARMS: Dips, Push-Upsguy_pushup_down_position

LEGS: Wall Sit, Lunges; SquatS

ABS: 
Bicycle Crunch, Plank

 

Just remember, both gyms are operating have different hours during exam time. Click here for the schedule. Also, there are fewer group fitness classes then normal so check out those updated schedules as well! While you’re studying, don’t forget to eat healthy snacks for focus, take breaks here and there and stay hydrated (especially if you’re drinking a lot of caffeine!).

 

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tar Heel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

Workout Wednesday: Seriously, What are Electrolytes?

If you’re like me, you’ve stumbled across dozens of different fancy beverages containing “electrolytes” while looking for a drink to go. “Electrolytes” – this seems to be the fitness drink buzzword nowadays in many popular brands: Smartwater, Gatorade, Powerade, Propel.

energy drinks

But what are electrolytes? How do they fit in the context of your workout, and your life? And should they be in your drink?

Maybe you’ve taken chemistry so you have a general idea of the scientific context of electrolytes (if not, no worries!). Electrolytes are salts, specifically ions. In solution (dissolved in water), these ions conduct electricity. The human body contains cells, organs, and fluids that maintain balance through the use of electrical impulses. The transfer of these impulses depends on the existence of electrolytes and an electric current. It is the job of the kidney to regulate electrolyte concentrations in the bloodstream despite changes in the body. In your body, the major electrolytes include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium and a few others. Whenever you sweat heavily through exercise, electrolytes are lost – mainly sodium and potassium.

Here’s where the drinks come into play. It’s important to replace these lost electrolytes during and after exercise to maintain body fluids concentrations and stay healthy. Several factors influence which type of drink you should reach for when exercising: duration of exercise, intensity level, body size, environment conditions, and the degree of sweating. For most people performing moderate exercise, drinking just water for hydration will do the job. However, individuals working out for longer periods of time (in the ballpark of more than 1.5 hours) at a more intense level may need to replenish electrolytes in addition to hydration. Drinks with electrolytes sound like a great idea, right? However, many sports drinks are also filled with sugar, which ultimately cause more harm than help.

Here’s the bottom line – choose your drink carefully. Read the label, and choose a drink with very little sugar content. Bottled coconut water is a great natural option for electrolyte replenishment if you’re heading out to for some very intense exercise. But for most cases, water is the best option. If you have more detailed concerns, research your specific question or talk to your doctor.

Here at Campus Rec, we celebrate self-acceptance. We also encourage you to make the best choices to take care of your body. Whether you’re at home playing tennis with friends or walking to class through “The Pit,” remember to stay hydrated with a smart choice!

 

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tar Heel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

Club Sports and Intramurals: A great way to get some exercise and become involved!

This blog post was originally published on December 9, 2014.

With the end of the semester come finals, and often, lots of stress. But the good news is at the end of the week you are done (congratulations)! Whether you finish strong or limp across the finish line, the semester is over and you cannot change the past. What you can do is enjoy your time off, get some rest, and look to the future and a fresh start in January. And if I may, I would like to make a recommendation for the spring semester: do something new and something that will help you with all that stress that school can bring. Become part of some sort of extracurricular physical activity, preferably one that gets your heart rate up.

Photo: Going up for the frisbee in the fog by Nathan Rupert, Flickr Creative Commons.
Photo: Going up for the frisbee in the fog by Nathan Rupert, Flickr Creative Commons.

Now before you say, “I don’t have time for exercise,” or “but I don’t like to exercise,” stop. One, you do have time for a little exercise, but often you will not do it unless you set aside a time for it. If you continually say, “I will exercise when I have free time,” you will always find something else you could be doing. Additionally, if you have hours and hours each month to check Facebook, tweet, Instagram, watch movies, online shop, play video games, or any other things that your normal day entails, then you likely have time for some exercise. Second, exercise will help all the other parts of your life as well. So many studies show that exercise not only improved physical health, but mental health as well including stress and depression. And if you don’t like to exercise, fear not! There are many options for exercising that don’t feel like a chore, including many club sports and intramural activities.

For me, physical activity means getting into the Carolina North Forest for runs, and joining road bike group rides in Chapel Hill. In addition to this, last year I joined the UNC Cycling Team, which includes a wide variety of individuals who have all different ability levels and who enjoy all different types of biking. Maybe this is something you would like to try, but if not, there are so many opportunities to participate in club sports, and intramural activities here at UNC. These include: basketball, soccer, tennis, ultimate Frisbee, football, rugby, and so many more. These are great opportunities to meet people, create social networks, and get exercise at the same time. These also can be really helpful for motivation on those days when you would rather just curl up in bed, but you know that getting some exercise would be good for you and you would enjoy doing it once you got out there. Not everyone is self-motivated, however, how or why you get out there is not the important thing, but rather that you get out there.

Olympian Tours Colorado Trip (by Jed Hinkley)
Olympian Tours Colorado Trip (by Jed Hinkley)

So, if you’ve wanted to become involved with some sort of sport or activity, there’s no time like the present. This is the perfect time and there are so many options to choose from. After all, college is about trying new things and meeting new people. It is also about becoming immersed in the culture and involved with the school. What better way to do that then with a bunch of other students, faculty, and staff that like doing the same things that you do. Your heart, your head, and your grades will be better for it.

Spring Break Fitness Reboot

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No matter how true our intentions are, sometimes we fail to stick to our healthy habits. Be it daily exercise, vigilant hydration, or eating enough fruits and vegetables, it can be tough to stick to our positive habits. With Spring Break around the corner, this is an opportune time to re-dedicate to health and fitness habits.

Here are a few simple tips to get back on the fitness bandwagon:

  1. Go slow! Give your body time to readjust to the fitness habit. If you push yourself too hard too soon, you risk injury. Start with a vigorous walk or a light jog. If you are lifting weights, start each set with lighter weights than you’re used to, so your body can adjust to the movement.
  1. Focus on flexibility. Light stretches help increase blood to target muscles, while assisting with joint mobility and range of motion. This can help you avoid injury when starting to exercise anew.
  1. Do what you can, and forget the rest. In huge mega-gyms, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the multitude of machines and weights. Instead of taking it all in at once, create a simple plan for yourself within your limits. Look beyond the super-fit triathletes and the 20-something bodybuilders to your own capabilities. An all-or-nothing mindset may discourage you.
  1. Begin with an easy goal. Employ “SMART” goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.
  1. Hydration: take a water bottle with you wherever you go, and drink often. A good rule of thumb is to drink a glass right after you wake up and before you go to bed, a glass between meals, and a glass before meals.

 

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tar Heel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

Ease Your Way Back Into Working Out With Campus Rec

At this time of year, there are plenty of things that could be keeping you from working out regularly. Midterms and projects are beginning to sap away all of your free time to be used for studying and various sicknesses are striking down students on campus left and right. Thankfully, I don’t get sick very often, but this year my immediate family all had the misfortune of passing some week-long terrible cold or flu virus from one to the other in the past month. I typically work really hard to make room in my schedule for exercise several days each week, but working out was the very last thing on my mind while I was sick.

It’s amazing how much of an effect ten days of sickness or of no exercising in general can have on your body when you try to start exercising again! The feeling of trying to catch up to your former fitness level can be discouraging and exhausting, especially if you make the mistake of trying to jump right back into your routine!

Luckily, Campus Rec offers so many fitness options that you can use to help you build up your endurance again after a workout hiatus for any reason!

Group Fitness Options:

Aquatics

  1. Start with yoga or Tai Chi. You probably don’t want to jump back into intense cardio or strength classes immediately. Both classes still provide great workouts that will increase your strength and help you feel active again without requiring any jumping around, weights, or heavy breathing.
  2. Next, try pilates! Pilates uses a lot of similar movements to yoga, but provides a slightly faster pace, more strength exercises, and increases the cardio intensity just a bit.
  3. Zumba is a great option to start re-building your cardio endurance. You’ll be up on your feet and moving around during the entire class, but there are no weights involved and no specific intense cardio intervals that could send your recovering lungs into a tizzy.
  4. Barre is a great option for increasing your strength, because you literally have a ballet barre to hold onto for support during the class. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that this class won’t offer a great challenge and leave you feeling strong and accomplished, though!
  5. Upper body conditioning and lower body conditioning are great classes to focus on strength exercises while incorporating only short bursts of cardio. Prepare yourself for some sore muscles after these classes, though! You may want to choose lighter weights than usual if you’re still trying to recover your strength!
  6. You’ll want to save Kickboxing, 3-2-1, BOSU Strength/Cardio Circuit, Muscle Cut, Absolution, KickHIIT, and Cycle classes until you’re feeling completely healthy, energized, and up for a challenge! These classes will push you to your limits and really help you gain both cardio and strength endurance after only a few classes!

Find the group fitness class schedule here!

Non-Group Fitness Options:

Group Exercise

  • First, remember that your own health and fitness is not a competition, so don’t worry about feeling like you have to keep up with the people around you in the gym! After being sick for a week, I couldn’t work out nearly as hard as most other people in the group fitness classes I attended, and that’s ok! What matters most is respecting how your body is feeling, so you don’t push yourself too far and make matters worse!
  • Instead of running, try just walking on the treadmill and then gradually increasing your speed to a short run when you feel like you can! Stationary bikes are another great option because they allow you to sit down while you get in an awesome cardio workout.
  • Just because you could lift a certain weight or do a certain number of squats last week doesn’t mean that you have to do the same amount this week! Accept the fact that you may need to work your way back up to your goal.
  • Create your own workout in the studios upstairs in the SRC! Grab a mat, listen to some music on your phone, and create a self-paced workout using dumbbells, steps, and the big exercise balls – all available to you in the studios when group fitness classes aren’t in progress!
  • Go for a swim! Sure, it’s definitely chilly outside, but Bowman Gray Pool is heated, and swimming is wonderfully easy on your joints and muscles. Bundle up, grab a friend, and head to the pool, or go on your own and enjoy the quiet and the feeling of the water supporting your weight!
  • Remember to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and to take days off as you need it if you become sore or you didn’t get enough sleep the night before!

Judging by the constant sounds of coughing, sneezing and sniffling present in all of my classes lately, I know I’m not the only one who has been feeling a bit under the weather! If you’ve been sick lately, or you just haven’t been able to get comfortably back into a fitness routine in the midst of another busy semester, consider giving yourself a chance to ease into working out with Campus Rec. Our fitness facilities and group fitness classes are waiting to help you establish healthy habits and reach your fitness goals!

 

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tar Heel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

Workout Wednesday: Sweating During a Workout – Is More Better?

Many people believe that the more you sweat during a workout, the better. Maybe it’s the idea that sweat is a form of cleansing, ridding the body of toxins. Or perhaps the appeal comes from the idea that increased perspiration will result in increased weight loss. Whatever the reasoning may be, the truth is that sweating alone is provides no health benefits. The positive effects come from the exercise, and the sweating is just a byproduct.

Image courtesy of Photodisc on Thinkstock
Image courtesy of Photodisc on Thinkstock

What exactly is sweating, though?

When you exercise and your heart rate increases, your core body temperature rises as well. In order to bring the temperature back down, you sweat. The idea is that the perspiration evaporates, taking the heat along with it. This helps cool you down after an intense run or a strenuous weight-lifting session. But the act of sweating does not amplify an of the health benefits associated with exercise alone.

And what about steam rooms or saunas?

Ah, the sauna. Nothing seems better after a hard workout that to relax in a steam room. While these types of rooms can seem to have health effects due to increased perspiration and skin cleansing, the truth is that these health claims don’t hold up. While it may feel good to take a trip to the sauna after working out, you really aren’t doing much to increase your health.

Next time you jump on an elliptical or lace up your running shoes, focus more on your form than on how much you sweat. Ready to get your workout on? Check out the UNC Fitness Center hours and make 2014 your healthiest year yet.

 

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tar Heel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

Workout Wednesday: The Biological Basis of Bulk

Pop quiz: Joe weighs 150 lbs. and decides that he wants to start working out in the weight room on a regular basis to gain some muscle mass.  Through consistent work at his new routine, Joe gained thirty pounds of muscle! By what percentage did the number of Joe’s muscle cells increase?

Answer: Zero percent! When a person gains muscle mass, the number of muscle cells does not change, but the size of each of those muscle cells increases! How does this work?

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As we know from experience, people gain muscle mass and strength by working out the muscles that they are targeting.  What is actually happening on a cellular level within each of the muscle cells of the body is the basis for gaining muscle mass, even though we don’t gain more muscle cells.  It all starts with trauma to the muscle; that is what exercise does, even healthy amounts of careful exercise cause small amounts of damage to the muscle. This damage activates a different type of cells called “satellite cells” to come to the aid of the damaged muscle cells in efforts to repair them. These satellite cells fuse to the muscle cells and create new strands of protein within the muscle cell, called myofibrils.  As this process is happening, it is still only happening in a single muscle cell, but that cell is accumulating more myofibrils and making existing myofibrils larger as they are repaired and this is what causes the muscle to grow in size. The extra muscle fiber can allow creation of more actin and myosin in muscle cells, which are the “contractile myofilaments” that contribute to muscle strength! (1).

Also, as you exercise muscles, the number of capillaries to that muscle increases, which allows more blood flow to that part of the body, and muscle cells develop more mitochondria due to regular exercise.  The mitochondria “convert chemical energy into energy the cells can use” (2). The increased amount of both capillaries and mitochondria in the muscle cells also contributes to the increase the size of the overall muscle. A good thing to know if you lift weights regularly is that high repetition sets are good for building up more mitochondria, so while low reps with high weight are also beneficial for increasing muscle size, adding sets of high reps with lower weight will also be good for increasing muscle strength. As with any exercise routine, it’s all about balance and variety. Regularly exercising a muscle also increases the ability of the muscle cells to store glycogen, which is the storage form of energy in the body and can be broken down and used within the muscle to provide energy for working muscle cells when they are exercised (2).

The scientific term for increasing muscle mass is “muscle hypertrophy.” Muscle hypertrophy is affected directly by hormone levels specific to each person’s body, and one main hormone affecting muscle hypertrophy is testosterone. Testosterone “can stimulate growth hormone responses in the pituitary, which enhances cellular amino acid uptake and protein synthesis in skeletal muscle” (2).  This is part of the reason that men typically gain muscle mass much more easily than women, because although both men and women have testosterone as a regulatory hormone in their bodies, the levels are much higher in men. Due to differences in other regulatory hormones, at the same BMI, healthy women will also have a higher level of body fat than men because this is required for normal bodily processes and for women to be able to have children (3).

This is a pretty basic understanding of how muscles grow, but I found it really interesting! I also found this video illustrating the things that were explained above in what I thought was a fun and simple way! But whether you’re trying to bulk up or not, don’t worry about the fact that working out damages your muscle fibers—the repair process is completely normal and necessary and virtually all cells in our bodies need repair on a regular basis. Just make sure to maintain proper form and safety precautions when lifting weights to prevent unnecessary damage to joints and tendons, which are much, much harder to repair!

 

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tar Heel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

Get the Most Out of Your Fitness Tracker

You just got a brand new fitness tracker over the holidays to help you fulfill your New Year’s Resolution for 2016, and you are:

  1. Super intimidated by all of the fancy functions and not really sure how to connect it to your smartphone or if your tracker even has that capability
  2. Jealous of your friend who was able to financially afford a more expensive or fancier name-brand version and having doubts that your tracker will leave you disappointed
  3. Nervous that you might develop some unhealthy habits or mindsets because of your fitness tracker
  4. Some or all of the above
  5. [Insert how you’re in the comments section!]

Then take a moment and breathe and read on for some tips on how to incorporate your tracker into your life in a safer way.

Fitness-Tracker-Group-W
Image courtesy of livescience.com.

Disclaimer: I use a fitness tracker, so I’ll be basing a lot of my advice off my own experiences as well as from what I’ve observed and learned from UNC college students. You’ll also find some links to data or resources — so click away!

A: Super intimidated by all of the fancy functions and not really sure how to connect it to your smartphone or if your tracker even has that capability

Tip: Find others who also use a tracker. Use social support!

In general, social support is associated with people being able to better cope with stress and an enhanced psychological well-being. There is a lot of evidence out there that already shows how crucial social support is for health education and health behavior. The American Council on Exercise notes that people with strong social support are more successful at lifestyle changes than those who do not have strong social support. You can take the 1st step and link up your tracker with others. Often times, your tracker has a function built-in that uses your phone contacts or social media friends to do that step for you — take advantage of this! Once you’re linked up, you can chat with your tracker friends and help each other learn the ins and outs of this new tech gadget. Together, you can take steps to incorporate fitness into both of your lives.

supportyouLN

B. Jealous of your friend who was able to financially afford a more expensive/fancier name-brand version and having doubts that your tracker will leave you disappointed

Tip: Learn the strengths of your specific tracker and align them with your individual health goals.

It can be very easy to compare yourself with others, especially at a place like UNC. A lot of us have done this, including myself! With fitness, it’s especially important to devise YOUR OWN goals. What’s motivating your friend to be healthy might be very different than your motivation, and that’s totally okay! The fitness tracker you have might be absolutely perfect for what you’re trying to accomplish. If you find yourself wishing it did more and wanting to spend more money on a different product, try to find some creative ways of using your tracker by consulting with a health professional. Here are two examples:

  1. You own a simple step tracker, but you also have a health condition that requires a more tailored diet or fitness regimen. Your device may not tell you how many calories you’re burning, so speak to a health professional. They can help you figure out what your individual target goal should be based on your diet, physical activity, and health requirements. Knowing that about 2000 steps equate to 1 mile of walking, you can now approximate what number you should aim for on your step tracker to meet your caloric goal.
  2. Your device does not allow you to monitor food intake. After speaking to a health professional, you might decide that your personal health goal is to challenge yourself to make smaller changes in your life to strive for an overall healthier lifestyle. You can use your tracker as a cue to action to remind yourself to, for example, walk or bike to class more often, take the stairs rather than the elevator when you have a chance, or take three, deep, mindful breaths before you go to sleep at night.
eric forman house
Dr. Eric Foreman from TV show ‘House’; Image courtesy of housemd-guide.com.

C. Nervous that you might develop some unhealthy habits or mindsets because of your fitness tracker

Tip: Remember social support? It works here too! Find an accountability buddy.

In my experience of working at UNC Student Wellness and being an advocate for health promotion, this is a topic that often comes up when people speak to me about fitness trackers. Fitness trackers are a great innovation; however, there are some *trigger warning….* physical health and mental health risks  associated with increased use of fitness trackers such as disordered eating, orthorexia, and exercise addiction. If you feel like you might be developing some of these habits, please reach out to UNC Campus Health Services. 

Linking up to an accountability buddy can be extremely helpful and promote safety. You and your buddy can keep each other in check by giving each other permission to bring up any issues of concern.

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Here are some signs to look out for in each other, according to the UC Davis Association for Body Image Disordered Eating:

  • Body dissatisfaction
  • Binge eating
  • Dieting and/or purging behaviors
  • Excessive, purposeless, physical activity that goes beyond a usual training regimen

Visit the UNC Campus Health page to learn more about recognizing signs and symptoms of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in people of all genders.

I want to note that the idea of ‘excessive’ is of course, relative. However, you and your buddy can talk about this together and come up with a plan to recognize signs specific to your bodies, inspired by what signs are advised by health professionals.

Remember that all in all, your fitness tracker should lead you to make everyday decisions that help you more easily incorporate fitness into your lives. Good luck and be well, Tar Heels!

 

Niranjani Radhakrishnan received her BSPH from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC Chapel Hill in 2013. She is currently a Program Assistant for Health Promotion and Prevention Initiatives at Student Wellness. She is also in graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill pursuing two masters degrees: Health Behavior and City and Regional Planning with an emphasis in environmental justice, health equity, and spatial analysis using GIS.

Workout Wednesday: Why Are My Muscles So Darn Sore After That Workout?

Last week, after returning to the SRC from a solid month of no gym access that caused me to rely on bodyweight exercises and a treadmill, I had the brilliant idea to hop straight back into my favorite group fitness class: lower body conditioning. This class is always a challenging one, but there were nearly 100 people there this time and it was fairly obvious that we were all struggling after the break. After 45 minutes of so many squats and lunges that I quickly lost count, my legs felt like two overcooked noodles as I picked up my backpack and wobbled down the stairs.

Within twenty minutes, I had cooled down and my legs were feeling almost back to normal. By the next morning, my leg muscles were felt tight and slightly sore, but I made it through the day without noticing the soreness too much. By the second morning, I could barely walk as I waddled and cringed my way across the house getting ready for class. Let me just say that you never really notice the subtle inclines and all of the many staircases on campus very much until every step reminds you of every single squat and lunge you did two days earlier.

So why were my legs so extremely sore?

This kind of achy, sore feeling after a workout has an official name: delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. While many mechanisms work together to cause this soreness, they are not all well understood. The best-understood cause of muscle soreness is simply that strenuous exercise causes microscopic tears in the muscle, leading to inflammation and soreness as part of the healing process.

The eccentric phase of exercise may be particularly responsible for these tiny tears. This is the phase where the muscles are lengthening, so if you were doing bicep curls with a dumbbell, the action of lowering your had back down to the starting position would be the eccentric phase of the exercise. This phase of the exercises puts more load and strain on your muscles, leading to the micro-tears.

Often, you might hear people say that soreness comes from lactic acid build-up in the muscles. While lactic acid is a by-product of your body’s metabolism during exercise, the lactate is cleared from your system naturally in less than an hour, usually, and is not the cause of your muscle soreness later.

 How long does the soreness usually last?

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Photo from freedigitalphotos.net

Most people experience peak soreness 24-72 hours after an exercise session when it’s something that they haven’t done in a while, if they are new to exercise, or if they greatly increase the weight load of the exercise compared to what they usually do. The good news is that after one bout of terrible soreness, like the one I experienced last week, you should feel back to normal in 3-5 days and the same workout isn’t likely to make you nearly as sore again if you continue to do it regularly. If you feel sharp pain WHILE you’re exercising or if your soreness doesn’t go away after five days of resting your muscles, you may need to consult a doctor to see if the pain is due to an injury and not just general soreness.

What else should I know about exercise-induced muscle soreness?

  • While studies have shown that medicines like Tylenol or ibuprofen may help with the pain, the results aren’t definite and they don’t help your muscles recover or heal more quickly.
  • If you’re not sore after a workout, it doesn’t mean that your workout was too easy or that it wasn’t “good enough.” The level of soreness is simply related to your level of muscle adaptation to that particular exercise, as well as your genetics.
  • While stretching, warming up and cooling down are still super important for keeping you safe during exercise, they have not been shown to reduce DOMS.
  • The micro-tears are not bad for your muscles, they are simply a natural consequence of tough exercise and they heal themselves naturally and strengthen your muscles in the process.

How can I recover more quickly from my DOMS?

Unfortunately, there is no definite way to make your soreness dissipate more quickly. No vitamin, mineral, or herbal supplements have been researched and proven effective for specifically treating DOMS, and you should ask a doctor before taking them. Massaging the muscles by hand or with a foam roll may be your best bet, because even though it is painful at the time, it increases blood flow to the muscles and may help them heal a little more quickly. There is no guarantee of what will work for you because every person’s body is different, but I usually feel a little better after a hot shower and after massaging the sorest spots.

Muscle soreness from exercise is a badge that some wear with pride and others, including myself, just try to minimize and get it to pass as quickly as possible. If you came running to work out with Campus Rec last week during “Spring Into Fitness,” and you were left as sore as I was, don’t be scared away! The worst has passed and your muscles are better prepared for your next workout, so come back to work out with Campus Rec during this chilly four-day week and be proud of the hard work your soreness represents!

 

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tar Heel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

Sources:

Why are Your Muscles Sore After a Workout? 22 July, 2015. Greatist. http://greatist.com/fitness/why-are-our-muscles-sore-after-workout

Yu, Christine. No Pain, No Gain? 5 Myths About Muscle Soreness. 17 July, 2014. Daily Burn.http://dailyburn.com/life/fitness/doms-muscle-soreness/