“I have to start working out. I am so out of shape,” you think to yourself. And so you do. You join a gym, pay the fees and start heaving weights. It feels good. At first. Two or three days later you can barely move. Why? If you know anyone in the health or fitness industry, you will likely hear, “It’s because of lactic acid. Lactic acid buildup makes you sore.” Not true. It’s a myth.
As you begin exercising, your muscles need energy. To get this energy, glycogen (a bunch of glucose molecules stored in the muscle cell) is disassembled into glucose. The glucose is the split into two pyruvic acid molecules and as a result releases energy in the form of ATP (andenosine tri-phosphate). ATP is the cash needed to make the muscle system run. If the oxygen levels are high enough, pyruvic acid will enter the energy factory of the cell (mitochondria) where it can be further split into more ATP. But, if there is not enough oxygen available, pyruvic acid transforms into lactic acid which can diffuse into the blood. Lactic acid, also referred to as lactate, can then travel through the bloodstream to the liver where it can be converted back into glycogen. Very clever design. Converting lactate back to glycogen enables you to exercise for longer periods of time with lower levels of oxygen. This comes in very handy in emergencies like when someone is chasing you.
Lactic acid causes a problem when the production exceeds the conversion back to glycogen. Falling levels of oxygen are responsible for the rising levels of lactic acid. Since cell function is influenced by acid levels, the acid level rise interrupts normal cell functions leading to fatigue. High levels of lactate make it virtually impossible to continue intense exercise.
Why do you hurt then after starting a new exercise? Most experts agree the cause is the eccentric or lowering phase of a movement as opposed to the concentric or lifting phase (the lifting phase actually produces more lactate than the lowering phase). The eccentric phase creates small tears in the muscle fiber which in turn stimulate an inflammatory response. The pain is called “delayed onset muscle soreness” or DOMS. Within a few days the pain subsides, fibers heal and the body learns how to handle the task.
DOMS is a normal training event. The body changes only upon demand and only upon repeated demand. It prefers the status quo. What better way to get you to stop exercising than to throw a little pain your way? But, if you persist in your training, the soreness will subside and the task will no longer be such a challenge. Your body will adapt and grow stronger.
Remember, you must earn your health. Don’t let a little DOMS get in your way.
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