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minor injuries sustained

July 9, 2011

Speaking of trying new things…

After a great week of hard workouts, yesterday was supposed to be my recovery day. But when a friend called and asked if I wanted to join him at the climbing gym, my answer was pretty much, “Umm, let me think, yes.” I had done this once before, in 1996 at Chelsea Piers in NYC. But that time we did top ropes; yesterday my friend taught me to climb boulders, so it really was a kind of first time.

Thank god I didn’t break anything. I did sustain a pretty ordinary blister on my palm. (At the end of the session I said to my friend, “I should have taken my rings off.” He replied, “Yeah, I thought about telling you that, but I figured it would be better if you learned it yourself.” Indeed.) And I am most definitely sore. My arms, including my forearms and that area in the back right where your arm becomes your shoulder, have the worst of it, but I could tell while I was climbing that I was also using my abs and my back. And last night the heaviness of my legs indicated they’d done their share of the work, too.

So what’s with that delayed soreness that sets in anywhere from a few to 24 hours after a new or increased-intensity exercise? When I first got started in fitness (for those of you who don’t know, I taught step aerobics as my part-time job during college; you can work out for yourselves how long ago that was), people believed this soreness was caused by a build up of lactic acid. We know now that it is actually caused by multiple micro-tears to the muscle fibers and connective tissue. While, yes, exercise you are not used to can cause a build up of lactic acid (a waste product of the bodily processes that convert oxygen and glycogen into energy), the soreness is the muscle actually being, on some level, injured. The inflammation, which takes a few hours to set in, not the lactic acid, is what causes the pain.

But this is the kind of injury we can rejoice in. According to Davis’ Law, soft tissue remolds itself in a random fashion that usually does not run in the same direction as the muscle fibers. In the case of a massive injury, like oh say, smashing your heel bone into a collection of pieces and powder, this new tissue is thick and immovable and has to be broken up before your range of motion can be restored. But in the case of the micro-tears that result from exercise, the new cross-hatch pattern of tissue actually serves to make the muscle stronger. You still have to work on flexibility to keep the muscle from becoming one big knot, but your body, in healing those little tears, is creating stronger tissue. And though you may still experience delayed onset soreness when you do the new exercise again (especially if you wait a long time in between efforts, like say from 1996 until 2011), over time your body will adapt to the specific demand being placed upon it, and your muscles and tissues will be able to withstand the new resistance without tearing.

So as I limp around today, complaining to the pets, I’m telling myself that these minor injuries are all to the good. I’m drinking lots of water and engaging in some low-impact movement to get the blood flowing (both of which will help eliminate wastes like lactic acid and will speed delivery to the muscles of the nutrients needed for repair). And once again, I’m feeling at least a little bit badass.

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