Why Do Muscles Burn During Exercise?

August 1, 2022

Have you ever wondered if that burning sensation in your muscles is normal or even a good thing when you are exercising? To some, it can feel expected and even appreciated but if you are new or newer to exercising, it can feel a little scary and make you nervous. It’s important to better understand what’s happening in your body and how to manage so that you stay consistent with your workouts. 

What Causes Muscle Burning Sensation During Exercise?

When you exercise, your body produces lactic acid so that your body can convert energy during your workout. Lactic acid accumulates in your muscles and spills over into the bloodstream. I know, it sounds scary but it’s all part of the muscle growth process.

In addition to lactic acid, DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) can also create that burning sensation and is common to experience.

When we exercise, we are basically creating strain on the muscles. This strain can be placed from a variety of types of exercises such as lifting weights, power yoga, cycling, hiking or any other type of intense exercises. Obviously, the harder you push yourself, the more intense the resistance is or the power is, the more this burning sensation can increase and the longer it can last. That’s good news because you can manage how your body adapts to the workouts you perform.

If you are just starting out with exercising, try just body weight movements versus adding resistance with dumbbells or kettlebells. DOMS can happen anywhere from 12-48 hours after a workout, and even longer sometimes. I personally have performed a workout on a Monday evening and still felt the soreness Wednesday morning. (This is why logging your workouts inclusive of what weights you used for what exercises can be helpful.)

Discomfort vs Pain During Exercise

Pain is a powerful word, especially for those with injuries or limitations. The last thing anyone wants to do is exacerbate any old injuries or create any additional pain or discomfort.

But that’s just the thing: It’s vital to differentiate if what you are feeling is pain or discomfort.

Our brains are powerful and can easily convince ourselves it’s worse than what it really is. You can always take it down a notch if you feel it’s too much. Naturally, our minds tend to want to take on more than what we may be capable of at the moment. Have a plan coming into the workout with what your P.R.E. will be (Perceived Rate of Exertion) Maybe for one workout, you can handle a 60% P.R.E but for another workout later that week, you are ready to dial it up and go 80%. This will have an effect on the burning sensation and the soreness.

When you are feeling sore, the natural tendency is to not exercise. However, that sedentariness will actually not improve how you feel. While it’s important to not perform an excruciating workout, you still want to move. Try some gentle, low intensity exercises with a lower amount of weight used and lower reps to help flush the lactic acid and get blood flowing once again.

If you notice any swelling, bruises or the pain lasts more than a few days, consult with your GP.

How to Combat Muscle Soreness

Proper stretching with warm ups prior to the start of the workout will help prepare the body and the functions of the body for the workout ahead. Consider what types of muscles you will be performing during your workout and ensure they get warmed up.

For example, if you will be performing a reclined flat bench chest press with a barbell, you would want to stretch out your pectoral muscles and warm them up with some wall or counter top push ups prior to lifting the barbell.

Foam rolling is also helpful pre and post workout. You can use traditional foam rollers or you can use tools like tennis balls to target more precise areas such as lats, pecs or even calves. Rolling helps increase blood flow to the muscles and will help with short term soreness and long term mobility.

Last, your diet also has a role in soreness! Eating an ample amount of Protein after a workout will help with muscle recovery. Consuming 20-30grams of protein within 30-60 minutes post workout is best and going for a food first approach is ideal.

Naturally, you may find yourself in a pinch and need to drink a protein shake. I know I do. I personally prefer plant based protein shakes that are chocolate if I can’t get to eggs or chicken. Getting the correct amount of macros in your diet will help not only with muscle soreness post workout, but also for fueling pre-workout. Check out our Nutritional programs to see how macros can make a huge impact!

Listen to Your Body

No matter what, listen to your body. Start small and slow knowing you can always progress your intensity each time you workout. Overtime, you will understand what the right amount of soreness is that you want. I personally love when I can feel my glutes, triceps or calves from a great workout. It’s a fine line between too sore and functionally sore. After all, you want to be able to brush your hair, get off the toilet and walk up stairs functionally, right?!

If you are new or newer to exercising and you are nervous about getting your body adapted to training, I would suggest trying out our Small Group Training or even our Personal Training at Feed Your Soul Fitness. The coaches will ensure you are in proper form (so the pain won’t be related to pulling any muscles!) and they will explain what your body is doing and what you need to be feeling. This will build your confidence should you experience ‘the burn’ without wondering if you are doing anything wrong.

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