Am I only building muscle if I'm sore after a workout?

Muscle soreness that shows up a day or two after exercising can affect anyone, regardless of your fitness level. But don't be put off. This type of muscle stiffness or achiness is normal, doesn't last long, and is actually a sign of your improving fitness. Sore muscles after physical activity, known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), can occur when you start a new exercise programme, change your exercise routine, or increase the duration or intensity of your regular workout.When muscles are required to work harder than they're used to or in a different way, it's believed to cause microscopic damage to the muscle fibres, resulting in muscle soreness or stiffness. DOMS is often mistakenly believed to be caused by a build up of lactic acid, but lactic acid isn't involved in this process. Anyone can develop DOMS, even those who have been exercising for years, including elite athletes. It can be alarming for people who are new to exercise, and may dent their initial enthusiasm to get fit.

The good news is the soreness will decrease as your muscles get used to the new physical demands being placed upon them. The soreness is part of an adaptation process that leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover and build. One of the best ways to prevent DOMS is to start any new activity programme gently and gradually. Allowing the muscle time to adapt to new movements should help minimise soreness.

There's not much evidence that warming up will be effective in preventing DOMS. But exercising with warmed-up muscles will reduce your chance of injury and improve your performance. While stretching has many benefits, there's currently no evidence stretching before or after exercise helps reduce or prevent DOMS.

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