9 Workout Questions You've Been Afraid to Ask

STACK provides answers to 9 questions rarely asked about exercise and fitness.

Ever heard the phrase "there's no such thing as a stupid question?" When it comes to exercise or body-related questions, it is absolutely true. Why be in doubt about something that could potentially be helpful or harmful? Always pursue knowledge, especially when it relates to your understanding of your own body, the greatest instrument and resource you will ever possess, and its physiological response to fitness.

Below are 9 questions you may not have thought of, or have been reluctant to ask—with answers.

1. Why do my ears pop when I train hard?

When your ears pop, it means you're experiencing a change in air pressure within your middle ear. It commonly happens in airplanes, where the rapid change in altitude (and thus air pressure) when taking off or landing alters inner-ear pressure. It can also happen during intense exercise, when you're working hard.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology explains that air pockets get caught in the middle ears. The ear's Eustachian tube is responsible for ventilating, regulating and equalizing air pressure. The tube runs from the back of the nose to the middle ear space (within the skull) and is controlled by the muscles in the back of the throat.

When you exercise intensely, your breathing can be shortened. If you hold your breath by accident, for example, the inhaled air, needing a place to escape, travels backwards up through the ear tubes. This is when you may feel that initial clog in your ears, or experience muffled hearing.

Swallowing causes the Eustachian tube to open and release the trapped air. Or, hold your nose and blow.

RELATED: Run Faster and Lift Better By Learning How To Breathe

2. Why do I cough up gunk when I work out?

Ever heard of "in through the nose, out through the mouth?" That's how people typically breathe when they're at rest. Your nasal passages moisten the air before it enters your lungs, filtering out any debris or environmental irritants.

But when you exercise, you breathe much faster than normal. During an intense workout, people tend to breathe through their mouths to process larger volumes of oxygen. When they do, the dry air hits their lungs head-on, carrying with it any irritants or particles from the air. The resulting irritation is what causes coughing and phlegm build-up. Coughing produces mucus, which protects the lungs from foreign substances.

3. Why do I feel cold after workouts?

As you exercise, your metabolic rate goes up and you sweat to prevent your body from getting too hot. According to Dr. Ollie Jay, founder of the Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory at the University of Ottawa, "We don't start dissipating enough heat to balance the elevated metabolic heat production until about 30 or 45 minutes of exercise."

Basically you create more heat than you sweat out during your workout. Afterwards, your body catches up.

Once exercise is completed, your metabolic heat production slows, but your body continues to lose heat, because you may continue to sweat. Essentially, it's the warm-up in reverse. You're dissipating more than you're producing, and your body may take you one step too far, causing you to become chilly.

After a workout, women tend to lose heat more quickly than men, because their skin's surface-area-to-body-mass ratio is higher.

And although this probably goes without saying, you shouldn't keep wearing your sweaty gym clothes after a workout. If you're walking around in sopping wet training gear, that's a whole other problem.

RELATED: When and Why Do We Sweat?

4. Should I do cardio or lift first?

Short answer: It depends on your fitness goals.

If you want to lose fat, the cardio option is a good way to start. After the cardio depletes your body's energy from its supply of glycogen (stored in the muscles), it turns to its longer-term energy storage source—fat.

If your goal is to build muscle, it's better to hit the weights first. Since cardio induces fatigue, hopping on the treadmill first thing could compromise your form and technique when performing lifting movements.

RELATED: Will Cardio Ruin Your Strength Workout?

5. What burns more calories, lifting weights or cardio?

It really depends upon the type of cardio exercise you perform. Lolly-gagging on the elliptical at a steady pace for 45 minutes is all well and good, but your post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is typically not very strong after such a workout, meaning you won't continue to burn more calories than usual in the hours following exercise.

High-intensity interval training speeds up your metabolism during the workout and for hours after.

And weight lifting? In general, weight training and resistance exercises result in a greater energy expenditure (i.e., burning more calories post-workout) than steady-pace cardio.

6.Why do my muscles get "pumped" during weightlifting?

A muscle pump is essentially when your cells swell as a result of accumulated blood flow to working tissue and the blood vessels become dilated.

If you're getting in a great workout, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll achieve a muscle pump—and vice versa. A pump is more likely to occur when you perform isolation exercises (like Bicep Curls or Tricep Extensions) with low weight for  high reps than when you load up with heavy weight and perform low reps. However, the latter method is generally better if you're looking to build strength and make athletic gains.

RELATEDHow Getting A "Muscle Pump" Can Help Build Muscle

7. Why do I feel more sore the second day after a workout? 

The intense, sometimes debilitating discomfort you feel in the days after a workout is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It results from microscopic damage to the muscle fibers, particularly in "untrained" muscles (e.g., when you do new exercises your body is not yet accustomed to.)

Exercises that cause DOMS involve what is known as eccentric muscle contractions—when the muscle is engaged at the same time it is lengthening, such as biceps during the downward motion of a curl.

DOMS can set in anywhere from 24 to 72 hours after exercise and can persist for days—the key word in DOMS being "delayed." Soreness is a side effect of the repair/recovery process. As you continue to recover, it makes sense that the soreness would subsist.

RELATED: The Real Role of Lactic Acid in Muscle Recovery

8. Why do I feel less hungry after working out?

Similar to ear blockage, this effect tends to happen after strenuous activity. According to several studies, high-intensity exercise leads to lower levels of a hormone called ghrelin, which is known to stimulate appetite.

For example, in a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, relatively healthy but slightly overweight men performed four workouts of varying intensity over four days. Researchers found that, after rigorous exercise, the subjects' appetites were noticeably weakened. On the most strenuous days, they had significantly lower levels of ghrelin, elevated blood lactate and higher blood sugar—all of which have been shown to reduce the  desire to eat.

Depending on the person and his or her fitness level, gender and body composition, the appetite suppressing effect can last for 60 to 90 minutes, or even into the next day.

9. Why am I so hungry after I work out?

The obvious explanation as to why you sometimes feel ravenous after exercise is that because you have just exerted energy, your body is literally craving fuel. Biologically, we want to overcompensate by ingesting more calories than we burn. Not to mention, metabolism and adrenaline have just been given a boost.

Although ghrelin levels are lower post-workout, it is likely to surge back, says Barry Braun, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at UMass. Furthermore, he found that leptin, the hormone that signals when you're full, is decreased after a workout. Another study concluded that ghrelin reduction occurs more with cardio than with weight training, so you're more likely to be hungry after weight lifting than after running.

Beyond simply feeding your body, filling depleted glycogen reserves and jump-starting the muscle recovery process, beyond hormone activity, recent studies suggest that exercise is capable of altering how the brain responds to the sight (and smell) of food.

Endurance trainer Matt Fitzgerald attributes increased appetite to "reward psychology." "You see this more with beginners, for whom exercise itself isn't rewarding," he says.

Although a number of studies have shown a reduced responsiveness to food following exercise, 41 percent of participants in a 2012 study had overactivity in their food-reward networks of the brain after working out—more than when they began the study.

RELATED: No, Really. Don't Shop When You're Hungry

University of Cal-Poly kinesiology professor Todd Hagobian asserts, "exercise has a definite impact on food-reward regions. But that impact may depend on the individual—gender, age, body type, fitness-level—and the type of exercise."

The trend—in both hormone and brain-focused studies— shows that the appetite-reducing effect is more likely to occur in those who are generally inactive. Thus, if you're fit as a fiddle, you may not experience that hunger-suppressant factor.

"Four or five years ago, it really looked like appetite hormones" primarily controlled what we eat, says Dr. Habogian. "But I'm more and more convinced that it's the brain. Hormones don't tell you to go eat. Your brain does."

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