Q:I AM getting back into exercise after a six-month lapse and am

concerned about muscle pain. How do I deal with this seeming inevitability?

A. "No pain, no gain," said bodybuilders in the 1980s. "Pain is weakness leaving the body," brags a Marine Corps T-shirt. "No Pain, No Jane," taunts the billboard advertisements for the Mary Jane ski area in Colorado. "Feel the burn," enthused Jane Fonda.

People who exercise know muscles sometimes seem to burn during hard exercise or feel a little sore over the next day or two (and the mere thought of pain is often enough to keep some people planted on the couch.) While many fitness professionals and sports medicine researchers believe people should "train, not strain," others (particularly body builders who are going for maximum muscle growth) flat out do not buy that advice.

Yes, exercise in general (not just weight lifting) can bring on something called "delayed onset muscle soreness," but the correlation between muscle soreness and bigger muscles is still being debated.

The cause of DOMS is

alleged to come from two sources: Waste products that build up in the muscle and/or the microscopic tears in the muscle tissue that occur when the muscles are pushed harder or differently than normal. This can come from trying out a new exercise or by increasing the intensity or duration of the activity. For example, if you usually jog one mile a day, then suddenly decide to push yourself to two or three, some soreness is inevitable, and it's usually mild and generally disappears after 12-48 hours.

But DOMS can be avoided. Here are some suggestions from fitness trainers and athletic coaches:

-Be sure to take the time to warm up and cool down after an activity. Slow, easy stretching can be very beneficial to the joints, and a good 15-minute warm-up is recommended to get your cardiovascular system and lungs working.

-Perform light, easy stretching after exercise.

-When strength training, start with lighter weights and high repetitions (12-15). Increase the weight lifted over several weeks.

-Try not to make sudden changes in activity. If you do try

something new, go easy for a week or two.

-Gradually increase the amount of time spent at the new activity; get some experienced coaching before just diving in.

All bets are off, however, if the snow has to be shoveled, the garden has to be weeded or the attic has to be cleaned and cleaned now!

In that case, DOMS is easily treated. Here are some tips:

-If you are already sore, perform some easy, low-impact aerobic exercises to increase the blood flow to the affected areas.

-Do some gentle stretching and/or massage on the affected area.

-Try a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (aspirin or ibuprofen). These will only deal with the soreness, however, not speed the healing.

A 2003 study from the University of Georgia showed a significant reduction in post-exercise muscle soreness with the consumption of moderate doses of caffeine.

Your other option is to just wait it out. Mild discomfort should go away after three days at the most.

Linda Buch is a certified personal trainer. She will answer fitness questions in Body Language but not individually. Send questions to Body Language, Bay Area Living, 4770 Willow Road, Pleasanton, CA 94588 or e-mail her at linda@ljbalance.com.