Sore Muscles After Lifting

by Brian Wallace

About Brian Wallace

Brian Wallace is currently a Ph.D. student in biomechanics at the University of Kentucky. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, and is an expert in health and fitness. He has been writing for six years, and his work has appeared in refereed journals and industry magazines.


Strength training can help give you that shapely, toned body that many women desire. However, sometimes the aftermath can be a drag. Whether you're a newbie or advanced strength trainer, muscle soreness can affect people of all fitness levels. You might find that your sore muscles hinder the execution of everyday activities or subsequent workouts. Understanding the signs of muscle soreness and how to treat it can limit its ability to affect you.

Identifying Muscle Soreness

Muscle soreness is often confused with muscle pain. Muscles are commonly sore after a workout. Soreness feels a lot like muscle stiffness. It results in a limited ability to move limbs through their full range of motion. Localized swelling and muscle tenderness may also be associated with muscle soreness. Muscle pain typically involves sudden discomfort at a certain point in the range of motion or with weight bearing. Pain is often a sign of an injury, while muscle soreness in itself is not an injury.

Causes of Sore Muscles

All exercise can elicit muscle soreness. Resistance training elicits muscle soreness more than other activities such as running or biking. The amount of force applied to muscles, how long that force is applied during the workout and the type of contraction associated with the force application determine the extent of muscle soreness. Eccentric contractions have been associated with greater muscle soreness than concentric contractions. Muscles actively lengthen during eccentric contractions and actively shorten during concentric contractions. Lowering heavy weights slowly during a squat will cause more muscle soreness than lowering lighter weights more quickly.

Soreness Theories

Muscles produce force through the proteins actin and myosin interacting with each other. These proteins make up sarcomeres. Under a microscope, sarcomeres are relatively uniform. After being exposed to exercise sarcomeres are disrupted. This disruption is greater with eccentric contractions than concentric contractions. A variety of chemical processes to degrade and ultimately repair the sarcomeres begin within the muscle when this disruption occurs. These processes result in some of the symptoms of muscle soreness, such as stiffness and swelling.

Duration of Soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the type of muscle soreness associated with exercise. It is the muscle soreness experienced as soon as a few hours after exercise, and can last for several days. DOMS often peaks about 48 hours after the exercise bout. According to the American Council on Exercise, DOMS usually decreases within 72 hours after exercise. In inexperienced trainees, DOMS may be more frequent and last longer than in individuals who exercise regularly.


Muscle soreness can be prevented best by exercising regularly using methods your body is used to. The best remedy for muscle soreness if you do get it is time, but other treatment methods may reduce your soreness. A paper on muscle soreness written by Dr. Declan Connoly and published in 2003 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reviews the science behind several proposed methods of reducing muscle soreness. According to this paper, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen have shown mixed results. Traditional therapies such as massage and stretching have not been shown to reduce muscle soreness. Ice therapy, especially when the involved muscle is immersed in an ice bath, has been shown to reduce muscle soreness. Oral supplementation of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E may reduce post exercise muscle soreness, but more study is needed, according to Dr. Connoly.

References (2)

Photo Credits:

  • Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or