The Truth About Muscle Strain

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Many think muscle strain is a painful condition that goes hand-in-hand with physical exercise, therefore it is unavoidable. Some people can’t move from pain the morning after a tough workout, while others never get the “desired” feeling, no matter how hard they train.

In this article we are trying to set things straight:

What is muscle strain and what can we do against it? And, is it really inescapable if you have trained for real?

Now let’s start with a little bit of chemistry:

It is a well-known fact that lactic acid is produced in considerable amounts during any kind of anaerobic workout (when the intensity is so high that the body can only take it by working the muscles harder). But, contrary to this common belief, this substance is not responsible for muscle strain. Lactic acid is an organic compound that plays a role in several biochemical processes including muscle functions. Its concentration in more or less constant in the body, because it is broken down in about the same pace as it is produced—but only at rest. During intense workout the body cannot keep up with the pace of lactic acid production, so its level rises drastically in the blood. But the half-life of lactic acid (the time required for the amount to drop to 50%) is only 20 minutes. This means, the lactic acid levels are back to normal in no more than an hour after workout, no matter how hard you have trained.This means, lactic acid is not the main cause of muscle strain.

Contrary to the common belief, it is not lactic acid to blame for muscle strain.

Muscle strain is due to the microscopic traumas (small “tears”) that develop during workout. These tiny injuries can easily inflame, which is painful (the intensity of pain varies individually). However, there is no need to worry. It is necessary evil: these are the tears your body will rebuild, and the result will be a stronger muscle tissue than before, if enough nutrients are provided. So the next time your muscles can take the challenge. To put it simple: that’s the way you can stack up more muscle mass. Now let me highlight that this defies another common misconception i.e. muscles grow during workout. Most of these recovery processes take place while you are sleeping. This means, you grow while you are sleeping. During weight training you only give the muscles the stimuli they need for growth.

Muscle strain is due to the microscopic traumas (small “tears”) that develop during workout.

The common belief that the muscle strain you feel a day (or two) after workout is the golden standard of hard workout is not entirely true either: it can depend on a million factors including your metabolic rate, eating habits or genetics. Some people never experience the symptoms of “classic” muscle strain (sharp pain and temporarily limited motion range of the muscle), no matter how hard they train. All in all, I think we can say: muscle strain is not inevitable after a tough workout. If you have that so-called “tired” feeling in the target muscle, that means you had a good workout.

All this is fine, but what can we do against it?

Luckily, there are a lot of tricks for boosting up recovery if you are wrecked after a kickass workout (let me highlight it again: this is not necessarily a problem; it is a sign of a good workout). There is an arsenal of various methods. Now let’s see some of them.

Aerobic exercise: now I don’t mean you have to do some extra work to eliminate muscle strain. This is a pile of bullshit, if you ask me. The only thing you can achieve by doing so is that you seriously interfere with recovery. In my opinion, with very low intensity aerobic exercise (for example, stationary bike, very light jogging or elliptical training) you can rev up your blood circulation to the extent that more nutrients can enter your muscles without overworking them. More blood = more nutrients and oxygen = faster and more efficient recovery. Makes sense, doesn’t it? ;) It can only go wrong if the intensity of aerobic workout is too high: depending on your endurance level, a BPM range of 100-120 is not likely to get you into the cardio zone. However, you better experiment yourself.

Hydrotherapy—water as a remedy: this might sound somewhat strange, but it is also pretty logical, after all. It’s about alternating cold and warm water while showering. Warm water opens up the capillaries, so you can benefit from a better flow of nutrients. And cold water has an anti-inflammatory effect. I don’t think it needs further explanation. In my personal experience, cold-warm-cold water is the most potent solution. Plus, it is also good for preserving (and enhancing) the flexibility of your blood vessels. Kill two birds with one stone. Not bad, eh? ;)

Vitamin C: as a strong antioxidant, it also has a great anti-inflammatory potential. If used in large amounts, it can remarkably shorten recovery time.3 or 4 grams a day should be enough. You should take it in one-gram portions distributed evenly during the day.

L-carnitine: 2 or 3 grams of L-carnitine after workout can enhance protein synthesis in the muscles. This means, you can build in a little bit more protein within the same period of time.

2 or 3 grams of L-carnitine after workout can enhance protein synthesis in the muscles.

Glutamine: glutamine in the muscles falls victim to weight training first. This is because hard workout makes the body release the glutamine storages, so that glutamine can fuel the white blood cells (the cells of the immune system). So, by consuming sufficient amounts of glutamine (at least 10 grams a day, but 20 are even better), you can support your immune system, which is not only important for your recovery but for your general health as well.

That’s all, folks.

The bottom line is: you don’t need to fear muscle strain and you don’t need to chase it either. It is not the golden standard of a good workout. Or, if your workout was “too good”, you don’t need to worry either: the above mentioned tricks will make it easier for you to recover if you go wild in the gym every now and then. ;)

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