Lactic Acid Buildup – What You Need to Know About Sore Muscles

I Heard It at the Gym
Everyone’s talking about lactic acid, from exercise enthusiasts to gym class junkies. Athletes and body builders strategically plan workouts around controlling lactic acid buildup. Do you know what lactic acid is? Do you know what effect lactic acid has on your workout? Your muscles? Don’t believe everything you hear in the locker room and get to know lactic acid as the hero defending your body from extreme exertion.

In this Article I’m Going to

  1. Break down of the science of energy production in super basic terms
  2. Dispel a common exercise myth – that lactic acid is the reason your muscles are sore 24-48 hours following a workout
  3. Offer a strategy for getting more out of your workouts by controlling lactic acid buildup

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ENERGY PRODUCTION 

411 on Energy Production. ATP is energy the body makes from food energy. ATP molecules are made through a number of crazy chain reactions going on in your body, constantly! We make ATP in our sleep! But our body isn’t a one trick pony. Our body has three methods of producing these precious energy molecules because sometimes the easy-peasy, not a stress or a care in the world method of turning food energy into useable energy isn’t fast enough. The life is good method of energy production is super slow and requires oxygen. 
 
Producing Energy Without Oxygen. When you’re running from a honey badger, you’re not jogging lightly, breathing freely. Your body starts converting energy fast, as your muscles demand it! But your muscles demand oxygen, too, and without it, the anaerobic energy systems get messy. Enter lactic acid. 
 
Pyruvic Acid Gone Bad. If the intensity of an exercise is low enough, sufficient oxygen is available for the body to maintain production of energy aerobically. When sufficient oxygen is not available to produce energy, oxygen isn’t available for cleanup, either. A bi-product of anaerobic energy production is pyruvic acid. Without oxygen, the pyruvic acid degrades into lactic acid. Lactic acid builds up, waiting for oxygen to convert it back to pyruvic acid so that metabolic activity can resume. Your muscle cells take on an acidity, a feeling all too familiar I’m sure. The feeling of a final rep.   
 
Lactic Acid – Your Muscles’ Defense Mechanism. When lactic acid is present in your muscles, there’s an increase in the acidity of your muscle cells. Your muscles begin craving oxygen, hard! You feel a burning sensation in the muscles being worked. It builds to an intensity you can no longer handle. Energy systems can’t continue to operate under such extreme conditions. You feel muscle fatigue and then muscle failure. You can’t get out that last rep. Your sprint slows dramatically or stops entirely. Lactic acid build up makes your muscles burn and the burn is your body’s message to stop overworking the body. Pause and recover. Let the lactic acid clear with increased oxygen consumption. Your working muscles eventually succumb to the presence of lactic acid to save you from damaging your muscles.
The production of lactic acid is your body’s defense mechanism, ready to prevent damage during extreme exertion. You can’t sustain levels of intense weight lifting or cardiovascular activity for extended periods of time. You. will. feel. the. burn. 
LACTIC ACID DOES NOT LEAVE YOU FEELING STIFF AND SORE THE NEXT DAY
 
Two Kinds of Muscle Sorenes
 
Acute muscle soreness occurs during and immediately after exercise and is due to the accumulation of lactate, decreased oxygen, and tissue swelling within the muscle. This kind of soreness, the burning sensation within the muscles being used, is short-term! It disappears after the exercise is over. Sweet relief as soon as you stop. Why? Oxygen converts lactic acid back to pyruvic acid so it can be on its merry way.
 
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the other muscle pain phenomenon. It generally occurs in the day or two following a workout. This kind of post-exercise pain and stiffness is explained by several theories, the most common being your muscles suffered tiny ruptures and tears during your workout. The structural changes to the muscle fibers require tissue repair activity that stimulates nerve endings sending the oh so familiar post-workout sensations felt as muscle aches and pains.
 
Other kinds of muscle soreness can be caused by acute and chronic injuries, not everyday workouts. Check out a previous blog to understand the difference between acute and chronic sports injuries.
PHA WORKOUTS REDUCE LACTIC ACID BUILDUP 
 
Keep Blood Circulating. The peripheral heart action (PHA) method of working out was strategically designed to keep blood circulating throughout the body during a workout. The approach is simple and sounds curiously like circuit training but exercise selection is key.You must choose exercises to perform in circuit-like fashion that will allow you to pump blood to extreme ends of the body, back and forth and back and forth. Moving blood through the muscles and not to the muscles will keep you from developing lactic acid build up and delay feelings of muscle soreness.
More on peripheral heart action tomorrow. Stay tuned for a PHA workout that keeps lactic acid buildup from interfering with your workouts.
 
 
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