By Carlee Frank

The weather is warming up and the sun is beginning to shine; this means throngs of wintertime hibernators are dusting off their workout clothes to hit the gym, the roads and even indoor pools for some laps. This is exciting news, but there’s one caveat –all of the muscles that laid dormant during the winter are about to become sore, sore, sore. So, let’s talk about it.

What actually happens in the body when we experience sore muscles? Well, it’s technically called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and is a result of microscopic tears in muscle fibers. Carol Torgan, a health consultant with the American College of Sports Medicine, said to the Chicago Tribune: “The damage ignites an inflammatory response as the muscle repairs itself, causing pain that peaks 24 to 48 hours after the activity and dissipates in five to seven days.” Therefore, we can put to rest the myth that a buildup of lactic acid creates DOMS.

Furthermore, each body is different –it may take hours to become sore, or even two days, and the healing process is just as variable. Some individuals may hardly ever become sore, so don’t worry if you can hardly walk in the morning and your roommate seems to be walking on air. Training and patience will bring your body to peak fitness where soreness is hardly ever achieved. However, if any fitness fanatics want to challenge their muscles, then simply switch up your routine and I guarantee you’ll feel sore the next day.

Soreness should feel like a dull ache or discomfort that is exasperated with movement. If you feel sharp pains or weakness in your joints, consult a doctor. If you over-stress muscle fibers or ligaments, they can rip and cause serious injury. So, always practice moderation.

There are ways, however, to prevent soreness and to treat ongoing soreness. First, make sure that you are properly hydrated. Hydration is important before and throughout your workout to prevent cramping and decrease inflammation/muscle soreness after exercise. A second way to prevent and treat soreness is by stretching. It prepares your muscles for physical activity and decreases the risk of a torn muscle. A final tip is to ice immediately after a workout and to apply heat later in the day. Icing decreases inflammation and heat encourages blood flow which speeds up the healing process.

Now, soreness is not the only hurdle in exercise –we must also contend with fatigue. Fatigue, unlike soreness, has everything to do with lactic acid. Long story short, during high intensity exercise, the body cannot keep up with muscles’ demand for oxygen and eventually produces lactic acid as a by-product. As lactic acid is broken down into lactate, hydrogen ions are released into the muscle tissue which causes fatigue.

While muscle fatigue is inevitable in the human body, persistent strength and endurance training will decrease its frequency. Proper fatigue should feel like a burn in the muscles and even a slight shake as they work to sustain your movement. If your muscles give out or burn painfully, you know to stop.

Some fitness beginners think they’re too weak to even begin; that they tire so quickly it’s not even worth the effort. But everyone has to start somewhere. Our biggest obstacle –besides our own mindset –is the first five minutes of a workout. It requires more mental fortitude than physical effort to begin, so just throw on some music and an old T-shirt and start jogging in place. As the muscles warm up and your heart rate rises, remind yourself that you’ve already begun so you might as well finish.

This week, don’t be intimidated by soreness and fatigue— let it be a reminder that you’ve worked hard!