What is Soreness?
Here at Yoga Better, we love questions and over-the-top proclamations (for the questions they inspire!). So when we say, “If you guys notice you’re sore tomorrow from this work, just let me know and I’ll give you a high five!”, we must really mean it.
There are two kinds of soreness. First, and most common, is the soreness you get from sitting in a chair all day. Then there’s the soreness you get from actually using your body. The first kind is the kind that means you’re body is decaying; The second is a good sign you’re getting stronger and more adapted to using your body.
Today let’s look at Soreness. What it is; why we like it; how to get it and how often.
First, the technical.
You are made of meat. Most of that meat has a purpose: move the skeleton around and keep it from falling apart. This is called Skeletal Musculature and that is all we really care about today.
You body is an Adaptation Machine, trying to figure out how to fit best in the environment it lives in. IAs complex as your body is, it is a very simple machine this way. Everything you do all day, your brain and meat are trying to figure out how to best adapt to it so that the next time you do the thing, your body will need less attention, calories, and other resources to perform next time so you won’t die as soon. Think of all activity as a stress or drain on your system’s resources and efficiency as the measure of how few of those resources you can use while still performing the task.
When you were a kiddoe, it was a major task to get that plastic baby fork into your mouth. Now? Effortless.
Run a marathon? Your body freaks out and does everythying it can to boost every system needed to do that again more efficiently. Same will all exercise: Do the work, and your body will get faster, stronger, mobiler, coordinateder, and so on.
Triggers for that adaptation would be making a demand on a muscle that is
novel / new
faster / more explosive
These can be movements or positions and any one of them can cause literal damage to you muscle tissue.
The inflammation response to repair that damage? Soreness. The result of that repair? Adaptation.
Soreness, like nearly everything, works on a bell curve. Plot amount of stress on a muscle over how sore it gets, and you’ll go from nothing, to a peak, then a decline. But not one of those long tail declines. It’s a bit more sudden. You know, when the Muscle tears off the Tendon, or the Tendon off the Bone, or a Ligament gives, or Cartilage in your Shoulders or Knees give, or a Disc squirts out (technical term), you lose adaptation response, because you overdid it, silly-billy.
“Are you saying that soreness is a delayed recovery response to the damage your body took performing an activity, the result of which is better neurological and muscular performance of those systems up repetition post-recovery?” Ahhhhhh…you remembered we love questions! And a great on at that!
And, yup. You got it. The technical name is DOMS, Delayed-Onset Muscular Soreness and that delay is critical. Working out makes you weaker. How long? Depends on how hard the work was relative to the you that did it.
Normal Workout – a day or so.
Normal extra hard Workout – 2-3 days.
Level 3 Yoga Better Workout – Up to 7 days.
Super-Hard Hiit or Crossfit Workout – Up to a month.
Again, the you in the equation makes a huge difference. A crossfit dude won’t be as sore you a normal schmo because they have adapted to the movements. They are literally not as difficult for their bodies as the schmo. Then take that Crossfit dude and magically place them in my Level 3 class, and there will be some trouble for them from the coming days of soreness.
To see that efficiency, picture me, your Friendly Neighborhood Yoga Instructor, riding a road bike next to a rider at the Tour de France. Imagine we were both riding our bikes pushing 400 watts, and magically we were going the same speed . I would be working much (much!) harder than the grand tour rider even though the pressure on the pedals would be the same. Why? For him to push 400 watts, his muscles are quite literally working less hard than for my legs due to more vascularity, better cellular respiration, creating a system where we can push the same amount of power output with less calories burned in the process. Am I stronger than those guys? Almost certainly, just not on a bike. It’s not even close on a bike!
Now, the Why we like it
This will seem a bit philosophical, but, as critical as we are of actual philosophers in the time of scientific inquiry, we are Lovers of Knowledge and Wisdom, and find that the ability to parse through the weeds of an experience to language it allows you both to understand it yourself, and teach it to others. So here goes.
One of the simple things adults forget is that they are heavy. If you had to carry around a dumbbell with your weight printed on it, you’d be having a bad day. Well, that’s what your every joint in your body deals with every moment of every day: Your giant, heavy body.
“Are you calling me fat?” Nope. Just heavy. Sorry if this is news to you.
If we are going to move our big ‘ol bodies around for decades to come, we will need a bunch of strength. “But don’t we get weaker as we age? And doesn’t age impact how well we can effectively develop strength with every passing year?” Now you have it. You’ve hit upon the most critical insight:
Today is the easiest you will ever be able to develop anything,
With ever passing year, entropy and age will make developing strength more difficult with your top-end potential shrinking more and more. I know, right? Suckus maximus.
Every bit of work we do to develop your body’s conditioning for strength will make it easier to use your body when your top gains in every function will be reduced.
How Soreness Works (on the gross level)
Working out is hard on the body. Doing any kind of effort will create damage to the meat that moves you around, and the healing of that damage takes time.
The technical name for soreness is Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness (DOMS) but only say that if you want everyone to know you’re pretentious or really smart.
That delay is the due to the nature of the healing that creates the compensatory response: Inflammation.
Most of you have heard of inflammation and know it is bad bad bad. Inflammation in your arteries is a marker for early death from fart attack. Inflammation-induced swelling is the biggest hinderance to moving your body well. As a global, I’m-having-an-allergic-reaction-to-all-the-Cheetos-I-eat-but-refuse-to-change-my-diet-for-decades kind of inflammatory response, we can all agree, inflammation, bad; less inflammation, good.
Ah, but there’s a caveat.
“Andrew, you love caveats so very much, don’t you? With all your philosophical rantings on nuance and grey area, it’s like you collect them.”
That’s true, dear reader! And what an astute observation from all the years of hearing me rant. I really do feel heard. 😊
Inflammation is not actually the problem. Inflammation is your body healing itself. Scrape on your Elbow (from Forearmstand Jumps)? Inflammation saved the day. Tears in Meniscus? That Knee is swollen because your body is trying to heal it with inflammation e(while you’re still using it). Most of us relate to inflammation like the aftermath of a burn, literally to be in-flamed. Being burned is bad, but without inflammation, you’d die. Pretty quickly actually.
Just like stress, it’s the chronic- part that gets us into trouble.
So, you strain your back, and the swelling from the injury is keeping you in bed? Dose on some Advil and notice how much better you feel.
Waking up hungover from enchiladas last night? Dose on some Advil and notice how much better you feel.
Finger joints feeling terrible from Label Guard work in Jiu Jitsu? Dose on some Advil and notice how much better you feel.
But DOMS is different. With DOMS, you’ve earned a special kind of soreness that I recommend you see all the way through without taking anti-inflammatory drugs to deal with. That hobbled walk? That’s you getting stronger next week, my friend. You’ve worked hard for that, so don’t rob your body of the hyper-compensatory response.
In 2016, I spent 9 months training to inline skate in the 3 marathons in Europe. One went up and down 3 mountains in Spain. That entire time, my legs hurt so much that I basically didn’t sleep well the entire time. I would roller or shake my legs out all night like a double case of restless leg syndrome. I once did a workout so novel and hard, I was ice-bathing my legs 3 weeks later from the unbearable discomfort. From one workout.
“Andrew, how do you get your legs strong?” Good question. See above, then duplicate every year for decades.
If you suspect you’re sore from a thing you did, let yourself be sore. It sucks, yes. But your body is a miracle factory, and you’ve simply ordered an increase in awesomeness, and the delivery method is DOMS.
Every discipline requires different things with the body, and most people don’t care about anything other than just moving around pain-free until they die. I love both goals and it turns out, my advice is about the same.
Make yourself sore 1-2 times a month. How you do it doesn’t matter. Disciplines like Yoga Better keep you safe while challenging your body’s limits. If you get hurt then you are even less functional than you would have been, i.e., the opposite of why you worked out in the first place.
If you’ve ever been to my Level 3 classes, you fall into this category. For you, I would measure soreness against specific goals.
Want to run a marathon? Rock climb 5.12? Balance in a Handstand?
Knowing this about yourself will guide the workout/recovery timing and there is no one way to do it. Our style helps you become more sensitive to how you feel which will keep you un-injured longer, but, just like salting food, you have to judge soreness frequency by taste.
In general, in your peak training periods (maybe 3-6 months before an event) you are safe to be sore every minute of every day. As you get closer, spacing the soreness intervals out, with longer periods of much lower intensity seems to work for pros and schmos alike.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my foray. If you want more art-tickles on particular subjects, lemme know.
 that would very much not be the case, as I weigh 50+ pounds more than this guy, making me impressively slower.