What happens to your muscles during vigorous exercise is still a bit of a mystery to scientists, but one theory is that microscopic tears develop when you challenge your muscles. During the next 24 to 36 hours, nerves in those muscles start saying, “Ow!” Pretty soon, just getting out of bed makes your muscles scream.
Types of Soreness
Delayed-onset muscle soreness is the technical term for the aches that develop in the days after a vigorous workout. In contrast, acute muscle soreness occurs toward the end of your workout or immediately after. Decreasing the intensity of your program -- such as doing fewer pushups -- is the most effective way to avoid both types of soreness.
A less-intense program might not achieve the fitness results you’re after, so a more effective plan might be to adopt a gradual approach, starting off with easy pushup routines and then slowly increasing the difficulty of your workouts over the course of several weeks. You’ll probably still get sore, but the pain will be spread out and more manageable.
If a gradual approach won’t work for you, you do have one more option: get the pain out of the way. Start your training program with a high-intensity, exhaustive pushup routine. The ensuing pain will be severe, but lower-intensity workouts in the future won’t make you as sore, according to the book, “Physiology of Sport and Exercise,” by W. Larry Kenney, Ph.D. et al.
If your muscle pain seems abnormal, ask your doctor if something is wrong. But if the soreness is typical, she'll probably suggest anti-inflammatories for temporary relief, and perhaps getting a massage and taking a warm bath.
The good news is muscle soreness probably means your pushups are doing exactly what you want them to. If you allow your muscles to rest for at least 48 hours and stick to a healthy diet, your muscles will emerge from their time of suffering stronger and better than ever. Over time, pushups will lead to bigger, more powerful muscles with increased endurance, especially if you periodically ramp up the resistance. For example, putting your feet up on a chair or wearing a weighted vest can help keep pushups challenging.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.