Overstretching muscles and how to treat pain
December 15, 2004 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Not that this ever happened to me. But suppose one went to a weight-lifting class, which happened to have quite a few pretty women in it. And suppose that one tried to be all he-man and lift a lot of weight. And suppose that the next day this person could barely move his arms. What could this person do to get his arms bending again? My ears itch, and it's killing me!
posted by patrickje to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Been there...

1) A little ben-gay works, kind-of.

and 3) don't lift more than one can handle, as one looks way more ridiculous lifting more than one can handle than one does when lifting a proper amount of weight.
posted by Quartermass at 10:53 AM on December 15, 2004

Looong, hot showers can help, with stretching, and Advil, but not all that much. You pretty much have to wait it out.

(I can sympathize--when I was lifting freeweights in high school, I pushed it so hard one day that my arms felt like they had been worked over by baseball bats the next. That next night I had a first date, and couldn't even hold a cup of soda or help with a coat. Just miserable.)
posted by LairBob at 11:06 AM on December 15, 2004

To avoid muscle soreness, you need to strech stretch stretch before, during and especially after doing excercise, any strenous excercise. Can't stress this enough. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much this cuts down on sore muscles. However, don't OVER stretch, as that can cause soreness all on its own. While doing a stretch hold it right when you begin to feel the tightness for about a 20 count, don't "push it" any further as that will actually break down your muscles just as any other strenous excercise will.

Once you have the sore muscles, you simply have to wait for the soreness to go away. Definitely don't do more lifting while you are sore, wait until your muscles are totally recuperated. Try taking anti-inflammatory pain killers like ibuprofen to help ease the pain and do some very light stretching.
posted by sic at 11:23 AM on December 15, 2004

Massage. Maybe one of those pretty women that were so impressed with your Hercules-like strength can help you out.
posted by rglasmann at 11:27 AM on December 15, 2004

Also, the fatigue will last more than one day. Be prepared for it to be even worse the 2nd day, and then better (but still not quite 100%) by the third. On the fourth day, you're ready to impress the ladieeeez again.
posted by zpousman at 11:41 AM on December 15, 2004

try aspirin. works wonders.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:44 AM on December 15, 2004

Hot shower. Long hot shower.

And chicks don't care how much you lift. I say this as a chick myself. (A chick who can bench 200.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:46 AM on December 15, 2004

Take yoga. Stretching before a workout is absolutely vital, and yoga is the absolute best way to stretch every muscle group in your body, as well as build functional muscles, as opposed to merely decorative ones.

Also, don't lift more than you should-- injuring yourself to impress a pretty girl, while it's a time-honoured tradition, is really dumb.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:47 AM on December 15, 2004

Do not stretch before warming up.


I am of the school that says one longish stretching session daily will be just as effective as three, but I would like to make absolutely sure that you never stretch before warming up. Your muscles are like rubber bands. When you stretch a cold rubber band, it breaks. Always do 5-10 minutes of light aerobic excercise before stretching.

Also - you'll find that as you lift regularly, your body gets used to the stresses and the post-lift soreness goes away. You should still never lift more than once every other day, though.
posted by kavasa at 12:15 PM on December 15, 2004

Ibuprofen will take the edge off the pain, but it can also make the healing process last a bit longer. Frequent, gentle stretching will also help--but do not force the stretch or you may make things worse. (Triggering the rubber band effect mentioned above--a sore muscle is, among other things, more taut than usual.)

Glutamine helps some people recover faster, but other people swear it's just a placebo effect. It always helps me, FWIW.

And definintely don't exercise those muscles again until the soreness is completely gone--which may take a week if you've really destroyed them.
posted by Tholian at 12:18 PM on December 15, 2004

Go lift weights again.


Obviously, don't overextend yourself like you did before.
posted by sid at 12:28 PM on December 15, 2004

Body Pump class, I bet.

What I do is hit the whirlpool tub after a class if I feel there is a chance of soreness later. (My center has one, hope yours does.)

And I second the above statement about not stretching beforehand. Studies are showing that is really really bad for you.
posted by konolia at 12:32 PM on December 15, 2004

You should still never lift more than once every other day, though.

You can lift on consecutive days if you exercise completely different muscle groups (ie, upper body one day, lower body the next). Probably a good idea to rest completely on the third day though.

I should qualify my previous advice. It worked for me on the day after I slaughtered my muscles. YMMV
posted by sid at 12:32 PM on December 15, 2004

There have been some studies that have shown that stretching has almost no effect on muscle soreness. I'm inclined to believe it, as I've never noticed any difference in post workout soreness if I have, or haven't, stretched. Stretching is still a good idea, obviously, but wont necessarily prevent muscle soreness, or injury. To avoid injury, do your excericises correctly (proper form, appropriate weight).
posted by Doug at 12:39 PM on December 15, 2004

Stretching may not have any effect on muscle soreness-- but seeing as the pain in this case was caused by overexertion, that's hardly germane anyway. What stretching does do is limber up the muscles, after a short aerobic workout.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:48 PM on December 15, 2004

Go swimming. Nothing relaxes agonizingly sore muscles like a few hundred lengths of the pool, or even better, a long and leisurely open-water swim.
posted by saladin at 12:49 PM on December 15, 2004

A hot bath with epsom salts.
posted by stonerose at 12:58 PM on December 15, 2004

"You can lift on consecutive days if you exercise completely different muscle groups"

Ah, true.
Should have mentioned that.
posted by kavasa at 1:11 PM on December 15, 2004

I've found that light aerobic exercise on the same muscle groups can help a bit (this is along the same lines as the swimming suggestion above). The operative word is light.

This doesn't help if you can barely lift your arm.

You'll probably find that this sort of thing (ie immobile arms) only really happens when you first start, start again after a long break, or try a completely new exercise. Once you have a routine established, you'll still get sore (if you push yourself properly), but you won't kill yourself in quite the same way.
posted by blender at 2:04 PM on December 15, 2004

Can't help adding -- don't do this any more! It's counterproductive. Chicks are not impressed by it (I am a chick). Many of the chicks at the gym spend a lot of time reading women's magazines and sports magazines with excellent, scientific advice about working out. Many of them book sessions with personal trainers and chart their progress and all that. They know when you are beyond your limits - they can see the warning signs. They know you should be able to execute every motion in a lift with good control. They know you should lift in sets with rests in between for best muscle development. They know you should increase by no more than 10% in reps or intensity or you're going to get trouble.

The gym is full of guys who are putting on some sort of lifting show, and are getting a terrible workout - not to mention, being in danger of injury. It's impressive just to see a calm, together guy who is just plain fit and having a good workout. Don't try so hard!
posted by Miko at 2:14 PM on December 15, 2004

Heat now. In the future ice after can help prevent or reduce the now.
posted by Mitheral at 2:24 PM on December 15, 2004

Can't help adding -- don't do this any more! It's counterproductive.
Soreness doesn't necessarily mean you're not lifting properly. However, this person probably is.
posted by sid at 3:06 PM on December 15, 2004

A quick fix lies in extra Vitamin B1. I have, on numerous occasions, exercised to complete muscular exhaustion (not by choice) and recovered within a day by taking 100 mgm of Thiamine (B1) several times over the course of the succeeding 24-48 hours. Vitamin B1 is water soluble, so it is quickly absorbed and you cannot O.D. on it. It is available over the counter in drug stores.

Now the physiology. This article explains how muscle metabolism works. It is very technical, but thorough. The following passage is the most relevant:

Glycolysis provides anaerobic energy by splitting glucose into pyruvate and hydrogen ions. These cannot be oxidized until they reach the mitochondria in the aerobic fibers. The concentration in the anaerobic fibers will rise until the hydrogen free radicals threaten to shut down the process, at which time enzymes trigger the combination of hydrogen with pyruvate to form lactate, which will level off at a concentration high enough to cause a gradient sufficient to drive the lactate into the bloodstream as fast as it is being produced.

This usually produces a 10:1 ratio in favor of lactate to pyruvate. Extremely fast activity can drive the lactate concentration high enough to shut down the process. The 10:1 ratio of lactate to pyruvate is a consequence of the slow clearing of venous blood from the fascicular arrangement of muscle fibers. The actual conversion ratio is one lactate molecule for each pyruvate molecule. The pyruvate travels across to the slow-twitch fiber to be oxidized to carbon dioxide and water. The carbon dioxide and water then become more concentrated, like the lactate waiting to be cleared from the cell.

What this all means is that during anaerobic exercise (such as weight lifting) lactic acid builds up in the muscles to such a degree that it shuts down their ability to contract. Since it is an acid, it burns, hence the pain.

The key enzyme which starts the conversion of lactic acid back to more friendly chemicals is, you guessed it, vitamin B1. This article, while describing horses, is relatively clear on the subject. (Horses and humans share the same muscle physiology.) The relevant section follows:

Glycogen is the main energy source for intensive exercise that lasts more than a few seconds. It is converted through many steps to enter the Krebs cycle to produce ATP, the basic biological energy source. In the anaerobic metabolism of intense exercise, these steps must be made without additional oxygen. A crucial junction is the conversion of pyruvate (from glycogen) to acetyl coenzyme A, where it enters the Krebs cycle. If the cell lacks the necessary nutrients to form acetyl coenzyme A, pyruvate will be changed into lactic acid (lactate). Lactic acid must be reconverted or transported to the liver for processing through the Cori cycle. Researchers point to the buildup of lactic acid in the blood and within the muscle cells as a possible indication of fatigue and inability of the cells to produce energy and control muscle function.

What this explains is that in the absence of sufficient oxygen, as in rapid, intense exercise, lactic acid is built up and cannot be cleared. The article points out that Thiamine (B1) is essential to clear it. (The other B vitamins, B2, B3 & B5 are also used, but B1 is the driver.)

As previous responders to your question have pointed out, overdoing it can have nasty consequences, including damaged muscles. The stretching and warm-ups ensure that the blood flow is maximized and that both fresh oxygen and venous clearing are available to the working muscles.
posted by RMALCOLM at 3:36 PM on December 15, 2004

NSAIDs and warmth. Don't massage - the tissue's damaged enough already.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:33 PM on December 15, 2004

Also, buildup of lactic acid in the blood is rarely seen other than in the end stages of severe shock.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:34 PM on December 15, 2004

re: lifting on consecutive days

There is nothing wrong with working the same groups on consecutive days.

There are a lot of programs centralized around lifting five or even seven days a week. For a while I was doing squats/deads/bench four out of every five days without any negative side effects.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 7:34 PM on December 15, 2004

I can't recommend Weleda massage balm with arnica enough. (And a hot bath.) It's great for sore muscles. Also works on bruises.
posted by handee at 6:48 AM on December 16, 2004

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