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How is Muscle Repaired After Exercise?

written by: MsConnie • edited by: Cheryl Gabbert • updated: 6/29/2011

If you exercised for the first time since the last time you last picked up a dumbbell or performed a hover squat...years ago, that muscle soreness you may be feeling is actually a sign of something good. Yes, even if it hurts. How is muscle repaired after exercise? Find out here!

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    How is Muscle Repaired After Exercise?

    How is muscle repaired after exercise, particularly if you overdo it or worked muscles you haven't worked for decades or never worked at all--and now you can barely move? The muscle soreness is a given, but what else is happening to those muscles, and why is the soreness actually a healthy sign despite being a proverbial pain? A well-rounded exercise program combines some type of cardiovascular exercise with weight training. This article's focus will be on the latter's effect on the muscles.

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    Weight Training

    Weight training involves the repetitive lifting of weights. When you lift a weight, metabolic activity within the body is increased, resulting in a depletion of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and muscle glycogen (carbohydrate). As you lower the weight, it forces lengthening of the muscle, creating microscopic tears in the small fibers and connective tissues of the muscle. The muscle becomes damaged on the microscopic level. The combination of the physical damage and the depletion of ATP and carbohydrate can lead to calcium imbalance on the cellular level during and after exercise. When this happens, calcium builds up in the cells and cellular proteins such as contractile protein are broken down. This calcium buildup can also occur in the mitochondrion of the cells, decreasing cellular energy production. What happens next is fluid builds up in the damaged cells to bring immune cells to the injured muscle. Thus, the healing begins--complete with that all too familiar muscle soreness.

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    Muscle Swelling

    As muscles heal, they may swell as result of the fluid buildup and immune cell delivery. The swelling can last three to four days but could last for as much as a week. You may even experience decreased muscle strength that could last anywhere from seven to 14 days. This may be accompanied or followed by delayed onsite muscle soreness (DOMS), which can last two to four days. DOMS usually goes away within five days. Doing light exercise and regular massage therapy can expedite muscle repair and even soothe muscle soreness. Immersing the body in cold water for 20 minutes has also been proven to help muscles heal.

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    Rest

    Another crucial step in the healing of your muscles is giving them much needed rest. A common mistake made by novice and advanced exercisers alike is skimp on rest and overtraining the muscles. Even healthy muscles need a day (or two) of rest to maintain optimal performance. Muscles recovering from injury may require even more. In addition to getting enough rest, try to eat a diet that has enough protein and carbohydrates to replenish muscle glycogen and protein.

    Once muscle soreness has completely diminished, range of motion returned, and muscle strength is better than it was before your previous workout, you can resume your exercise regimen. And try not to overdo it.