I've had clients ask why they feel bigger after a great workout. You'd think after a workout you'd smaller be right? You've sweat and maybe lost a couple ounces of fluid so you must be smaller after a workout, right?
The truth is your muscles are actually bigger after a workout. A couple contributing factors are increased blood flow and inflammation. When you're exercising more blood is pumped in to the working muscles to increase the availability of oxygen and nutrients. As we talked about in the last post, there are specific nutrients that are needed for muscle contraction to happen.
Inflammation is the biggest factor in lingering swelling (maybe even 72 hours later). When a muscle is swollen due to inflammation, which is often associated with soreness, the muscles damaged tissue is being repaired. Workouts literally damage muscle tissue and then body repairs it making it stronger. This is especially true with eccentric exercises or movements, as opposed to concentric or isometric. Let's use a pull up for our example; the pulling of the chest to the bar is the concentric action, if you were to stop at the top and hold, your muscles would be working isometrically and then eccentrically in lowering yourself slowly, which is actively lengthening the muscle. The actively lengthening part is where the most muscle damage occurs and therefore creates the most swelling.
So the short answer is yes, your muscles are bigger after a workout, but the great news is that you're getting stronger by the minute as your body repairs your damaged muscles and the swelling will dissipate as soon as the muscle heals. To decrease recovery time do some active recovery activities like foam rolling, stretching, maybe even some yoga and make sure you stay hydrated and well nourished. It's important to listen your body cues and plan your workouts accordingly or have your trainer help you plan them. This is a gross analogy but it's the best I can think of. Think of your muscle damage as scab, if you keep working the muscles with out appropriate rest and care you're basically picking the scab off your injury over and over again. It will never heal, right? Or if it does you've lengthened the repair process tenfold.
In sum, embrace the amazing healing powers of your body. Listen to your body so that you can get stronger. Train smarter, not harder, eat well, stay hydrated and rest!