So you just finished your morning workout and you feel exhausted but relieved that it's over. And the next morning you’re sore, and struggling to get out of bed. So you think “Great that I was an amazing workout!”
Are you sure about that?
The endorphin trap
Workouts should make you feel good. And by feeling good, we mean energetic and happy. Not worn out, not sleepy, or lethargic.
If you feel beaten up, you probably pushed yourself too hard. It means you have used all your glycogen (sugar) in storage and the tank is now empty with basically no fuel left to keep you going. In that case, you need to either cut back on your number of sessions or lower the intensity.
Now there is a specific reason why working out makes you happy, it encourages the release of feel-good chemicals, i.e. endorphins. The main function of endorphins is to block the transmission of pain signals and to produce a feeling of euphoria just like opiates.
These endorphins are responsible for that high that you get after a workout. And just like with any other substance that plays with your brain’s reward system, for example, sugar, you might get addicted to it, and not realise that it is actually harming you.
So in conclusion, if you feel euphoric after a workout but later feel depressed, anxious or fatigued, experience mood swings and have trouble sleeping at night then, you might want to seriously re-think your training program. Frustration at missing a workout is often the first sign that you are overtraining.
Is it really sensible to adopt the "No Pain, No Gain" philosophy?
Working out creates micro-trauma to the muscle fibers and soreness is one symptom of that damage done to the muscles. And soreness may peak anywhere from 24 to 48 hours after a workout. During this time your body will repair the broken fibres and your muscles will become bigger and stronger. Soreness is an indication that your muscles are still broken.
So, is this pain a good thing?
Well if the pain is so intense that you can’t carry out daily activities (walking, sitting down, climbing stairs) without complaining then it’s not good news. And this means 2 things:
- the workout was too hard and the damage too intense
- your body is not able to recover and repair effectively
In that case, you should absolutely:
- wait until you are fully recovered before your next workout but stay active. This will help stimulate blood flow and help the muscles recover
- reduce the intensity of your workouts
- focus on getting good nutrition and good sleep, the two key elements of athletic recovery
- change your workout from more a typical Singapore based bodybuilding routine (8 to 12 reps) to more of a strength based routine (reps ≤ 5)
No Pain, No Gain!"
Now, if you are completely brand new to fitness, you will definitely feel sore for a couple of days after your first workouts. Don’t worry that’s normal. Your body has not been under such stress for a while, if ever, and will take some time to adapt. But after a few sessions / weeks you will be able to recover much quicker.
Now if you’re not sore, does it mean you didn’t have a good workout? Actually no.
Muscle soreness is ONE symptom of muscle fiber damage. And research suggest1 that muscle growth doesn’t depend on muscle soreness. “The results of this study suggest that muscle rebuilding - for example, hypertrophy - can be initiated independent of any discernible damage to the muscle.”
Overtraining, overeating and stress
Overtraining can easily result in overcompensatory eating, i.e. you burn 600 calories, your brain ramps your hunger hormone, grehlin, up to a 10 on the 'hunger meter' and you end up eating an extra 800 calories and overcompensate for those that you've lost.
If you are suffering from a lot of lifestyle stressors, pressures at work and trying to keep up with the kids then piling on a load of additional physical stress in the gym is likely to just compound the issues and result in frying your poor adrenal glands. Another reason to think about whether your exercise regime is contributing to your health or taking from it.
To sum up, you should always finish a workout feeling like you could have gone a little longer or harder, and should be able to recover quickly. You want to have gas left in the tank to maximise your results. If not then you may need to rethink your training program and start including different form of activities at lower intensities (walking, swimming, cycling…) or more strength based and less bodybuilding type exercises (most trainees often do not even realise they are embarking on a bodybuilding regime). Adding a stretching routine will also help with muscle soreness and to avoid muscle imbalances. And finally your nutrition, hydration and sleeping habits will greatly affect your energy levels and your body’s ability to recover.
To your health, happiness and longevity,
The Levitise Team
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1. Muscle damage and muscle remodeling: no pain, no gain?, 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21270317