You're diligently waking up at 6 a.m., lifting weights, running, and eating relatively well. Still, no matter how hard you try, you constantly feel sore, your body feels heavy, and you're not getting stronger. While there's no one reason why this happens, it's frustrating when it does. Luckily, there's a lot you can do about it.
Here are four reasons you're always sore and not getting stronger—and how to fix it:
1. You have bad posture.
When you're consistently sitting or standing in less than optimal alignment, certain muscles have to work to harder to hold the skeleton up while other muscles don’t work hard enough. These misalignments not only inform your muscles but also your connective tissue or fascia, and the fascial web further retains the shape of your physical asymmetry.
Moving from this bad posture leads to unbalanced, inefficient movement as a result of less-than-ideal physics. For example, if you're standing with a forward head, the muscles in the back of the head and neck have to work very hard. They are being asked to do a job that they’re not meant to be doing. In turn, they overwork and become fatigued, causing soreness, which can then become chronic.
The fix: Gain awareness of your posture and prioritize it throughout the day and during exercise.
Then, begin to retrain your body to move in alignment to create maximum ease. Try working with an expert in Pilates, yoga, or posture who can assess your body’s patterns and tailor your exercise to your individual needs. Invest in your own longevity.
2. You have exercise-induced micro-tears.
When we push our bodies too far, micro-tears happen—and sometimes we ignore them because we assume the more sore we are, the fitter we're getting. But you don’t have to experience soreness to become stronger or more flexible—think of a wooden board with too much weight on it. Whether immediately or over time, the board will splinter from the excessive pressure. In much the same way, exhausting your body or stretching a muscle that is already stretched will only lead to muscular injury and more recovery time.
The Fix: Work smarter, not harder, and within your body’s capabilities in the moment.
Build strength consistently rather than aggressively. Learn to stay conscious as you move so that your movements are safe. Try using much lighter weight within a really sustained movement so that you don’t overstrain. Resist the temptation to stretch a muscle past its capability, as the connective tissue then loses its ability to contract, which can result in a tear and reduced movement. As a general rule, if you can’t follow the flow of your breath, you’re not working with ease.
Additionally, be as consistent as possible. There may be days, because of traveling or lack of a workout, when you're tempted to jump back in further than you left off in your routine. Don't do it! Instead, meet your body where it is on that particular day, regardless of goals, and always be kind to yourself.
3. You have lactic acid buildup from overworking too few muscle groups.
Your habits make you dominant in certain muscle groups, and you end up overworking those muscles throughout your day. This could also lead to the muscular system asking your prime movers—like the pectoralis major or quadriceps—to stabilize you when really the intrinsic muscles are the stabilizers. Over time, the big movers prevent you from developing overall strength and can often lead to unnecessarily achy body parts.
The Fix: Make every movement a full-body movement.
This helps recruit more muscle groups and find the support of the intrinsic musculature. You have hundreds of muscles in your body. They are designed to work together with the skeleton and fascial system to effect movement. In order to do so, learn to maintain awareness of your alignment in every exercise and use your mind/body connection to focus on firing muscles that you don’t normally feel or have trouble engaging. Remember, the best medicine is preventive.
4. You have systemic inflammation from the foods you eat.
Inflammation, aside from being a major cause of chronic disease, can cause joint pain. The five major culprits include sugar and carbs (high insulin levels followed by a drop in blood glucose), food sensitivities (eating foods you are sensitive to causes an immune response resulting in inflammation), too many toxins (hormone imbalances from endocrine disrupters can cause hormonal imbalances that lead to inflammation), not enough good fat (you’re getting too much omega-6 and not enough of the anti-inflammatory omega), or too much animal protein—many of us are told that if we work out and want to build muscle and lose fat, we should eat lots of protein. But an excess of protein, especially animal protein, can lead to inflammation.
The Fix: Eat unprocessed foods focusing on vegetables, especially the green leafy variety.
When you eliminate refined sugar from your diet and incorporate low glycemic fruits such as berries, you'll see a huge difference. Get your protein from sources high in omega-3s such as nuts, seeds, and fish, and choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbs. As a bonus, keep a "food feel" diary—what do you eat and how does it affect you? It’s about making choices that make you feel good and help you stay present.
Ready to take better care of your body now? Read about how Pilates healed Erika's lifelong injury.