The causes of muscle pain
muscle strain

The causes of muscle pain

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Muscle strain. Known to almost everyone I think. Some people experience it after cycling when they have not done so for a while, others when they have not trained for a while. Still others feel that they haven't had a good workout if they don't notice muscle pain one or two days later, because that is 'again the feeling that you did something'.

But, what exactly is muscle pain? And is it something you should strive for, or should you avoid? I want to go into that in this article!

What is muscle pain?

Muscle pain, or DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) is the pain you sometimes feel in your muscles after a workout. For those who want to read more about it, use the search term DOMS or whatever it stands for (With muscle strain you won't get very far).

It can come on 12 to 36 hours after a workout and last for 1 to 5 days. In addition, the pain can be mild or such that, for example, walking is almost impossible.

Causes of muscle pain

Muscle pain can arise in different ways. Most people also know this, because sometimes after cycling or jumping rope for a while you can have horrible muscle pain, while a number of sets of deadlifts seem to give zero trouble.

The most obvious cause is muscle damage. Micro trauma, or, as you may have seen in other articles of mine, mechanical damage. But oxidative stress can also cause muscle pain. A third cause may be stress on the nerve sheaths of the muscles being trained.

muscle strain

1. Mechanical damage

Mechanical damage often occurs when we train a muscle in the longitudinal position. With a little knowledge of the body and physiology, you will know which exercises train a muscle for length and which do not. As discussed earlier, we select exercises based on the purpose of the training. In some blocks mechanical damage could be the target and we mainly choose exercises in the length position of the muscle. Consider, for example, a seated leg curl.

In other blocks you want to prevent muscle damage as much as possible and we opt more for exercises in the short position of the muscle. For example a lying leg curl. The work rate also has a major influence on how much muscle damage an exercise causes.

In this article you can read more about this cause of muscle pain.

2. Oxidative stress

Oxidative stress arises when we do so much work in a certain time frame that the energy production in the cell lags. This can be the goal of a training, but I recommend that you use it very sparingly. This is because inflammation (an inflammatory reaction) can occur, with the ensuing consequences.

At the end of a hypertrophy block, one or two weeks of oxidative training would be a good idea, provided that the loading is done properly afterwards. You can read more about this in the article about training to failure.

In a way, for this stressor, you apply training beyond failure.

3. Stress on the nerves

Stress on the nerves themselves is more of a byproduct of length position training and not usually a goal we pursue. In addition, unlike the previous two, this never seems to potentially lead to an adaptation that brings us closer to our goals. This also means that it may be possible to have muscle pain, without this saying anything about progression.

muscle strain


All these possibilities have one thing in common. Namely that they can lead to inflammation. Sometimes as a by-product, sometimes as a goal. Muscle pain is actually a sign that local inflammation has developed. The pain you feel is not necessarily damage to the muscles themselves, but the result of inflammatory mechanisms. This also means that damage can certainly occur without causing muscle pain.

Incidentally, inflammation is not a bad thing and even necessary for recovery. For this reason it is not wise to take large dosages antioxidants or take anti-inflammatories around your workouts. This will definitely have a negative effect on your progress!

Good or bad, too much or too little

In the above paragraphs I explained why muscle pain is not necessarily good or not necessarily bad. No muscle pain doesn't mean the workout wasn't good. Neither does muscle pain.

This is entirely and completely due to the intended effect of the training. When we are in a training block where muscle damage is the goal, muscle pain can be expected. In this case, a good rule of thumb is that muscle pain does not last much longer than 2 days.

If the muscle pain lasts more than 3 days, you may have done too much. This could mean that the training was too much or that your recovery capacity is suboptimal.

If you feel no muscle pain at all after training in such a block, this probably means that the next training can and may be more intensive.

muscle strain

As mentioned, muscle pain is certainly not always the goal. When you are in a metabolic training block you want to avoid inflammation to a certain extent. Muscle pain is not the goal in this case. If muscle pain in such a block persists for more than 2 days, you can assume that the intensity or volume of your training is too high.

An exception to these rules is when you have just changed training schedule or exercise selection.

Finally, getting rid of muscle pain after 1 or 2 days certainly does not mean that you have fully recovered from the training. This can take one or a few more days, depending on how heavy the training stimulus was.

Muscle pain in short

Muscle pain is certainly not an indication of whether a training has been adequate. Depending on the training block you are in, you should expect or better avoid muscle pain. The duration of muscle pain says something about the intensity of your training and can help you find out whether the next training can be heavier or whether you prefer to slow down a bit.

However, this can also be affected by your recovery capacity. Sleep, Yippee digestion and your energy levels are also good indicators when you want to find out whether your training intensity or volume is perhaps too high.

When muscle pain is over, it does not mean that the muscle group is ready to be trained again.

This blog is written by

Jan Willem van der Klis

"My focus is on obtaining and disseminating the best possible knowledge to optimize training and nutrition"

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