After not exercising for a few months, you started training again on Saturday morning. You have received a new training program from the trainer at the gym. You will get to work with it motivated and full of enthusiasm.

In the evening you already feel some stiffness and muscle aches. Tasty, you think of yourself well-trained! You eat your bowl of cottage cheese empty and a little later you dive into your bed satisfied.

The next morning you want to jump out of bed but the body say’s no! With a not so graceful roll-throw movement you get out of bed. Your whole body feels like a truck has driven over it. With pain and effort you try to put on a pair of jeans. After a few attempts you give up and you take a pair of sweatpants from the cupboard. Never mind, it’s Saturday anyway.

No pain, no gain!

Most athletes know this type of muscle pain. It is also not uncommon to experience a lot of muscle pain when you have started training again, have done a new form of training or have exercised. Only this type of severe muscle pain should be an exception, not the norm.

Muscle Fibers and Growth

To give you more insight into muscle pain, it is useful to know how muscles grow. Muscles grow through physical work or a form of strength training. You can also achieve muscle growth through cardio, but that is only for beginners.

When we talk about muscle growth, there are three factors: muscle damage, metabolic stress and mechanical tension.

Muscle damage

Muscle damage occurs when you give a new stimulus to the body. This can arise from a different exercise, core training for athletes or technology improvement. This damage (severe muscle pain) is a reaction of your body to this new load. It is a consequence, not something you want to pursue.

Metabolic stress (metabolic stress)

Metabolic stress has to do with the activity that a muscle must deliver. The more and longer this takes, the more stress the muscle undergoes. Metabolic stress is a collective term for processes that are also referred to as ‘acidification’ or ‘pump’.

A pump is the result of a swelling muscle with blood. The burning feeling that you feel is partly due to lactate formation. It is a metabolic reaction by burning energy that was in a muscle cell. Metabolic stress is best pursued with isolation exercises and less with compound exercises.

How muscles grow

To become stronger and more muscular, progressive overload must be applied. This means that you try to do a little more every workout than the last time. You can do this by:

  • Increasing the work weight;
  • Increase the total number of work sets per week;
  • Perform more repetitions;

Is muscle pain an indication of a good workout?

A lot of muscle pain does not necessarily mean that you have trained better, resulting in more muscle growth. As you read above, having muscle damage is not something you should aim for. The absence of (severe) muscle pain will only ensure that you can train better next time.

Do you want to become stronger or more muscular? Then focus on these four factors:

  • The technically correct execution of an exercise;
  • A complete movement result;
  • Apply progressive overload;
  • Make sure your recovery is in order. Sleep, nutrition and relaxation.

Can you train with muscle aches?

When you can barely walk properly due to muscle pain, it might be wiser to take some extra rest. Blood circulation to the muscles is advisable. Sitting still will only make it worse.
With most athletes, the muscles are fully resilient after 24 hours. In addition, it is important that you have not done excessive volume and have pushed all your sets to failure.

Don’t always let muscle pain guide you, just try it. You will see that it often goes well again.
If you constantly have a lot of muscle pain, it is useful to look at your programming with a critical eye. Don’t have a program? Then that would be the first step.

What can you do about muscle pain?

Stretching and taking magnesium does not help in reducing muscle pain.

There are a number of things you can do about muscle pain:

  • By moving in a calm manner the next day, focusing on blood flow;
  • Consider low intensity strength or cardio training;
  • Take a warm bath or shower;
  • Make sure you have a good diet;
  • By training at a higher training frequency your muscles get used faster and better to the load.