Whether you’re new to exercise or a seasoned veteran, you’re likely familiar with sore muscles after a workout.
Proper post-workout recovery will help reduce some of the inevitable soreness that comes after changing up your workout or doing something new.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is caused when you create micro tears in your muscles after an activity that your body isn’t used to.
This causes inflammation, which translates to muscle soreness and stiffness days after your workout.
While DOMS can’t be avoided entirely, you can help minimize it in a few ways.
If you don’t feel soreness after a workout, it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It just means your body is more efficient at what it’s doing, so don’t make it your goal to feel sore. Pain doesn’t translate to gain. Pain can mean injury if you’re pushing yourself too hard too often.
How to Reduce Muscle Soreness
- Dynamic Warm Up
No matter what activity you’re doing, warm ups are an important part of your workout regimen. It can take as little as 5 minutes to prevent days of soreness.
To warm up, do some brisk walking or light jogging. Plyometrics are also a terrific way to get the muscles warmed up.
Good plyometric exercises to start with are leg bounds, box jumps, and rocket jumps.
Refueling after a hard workout is essential to good recovery and muscle repair.
Try to aim for a 3:1 or 4:1 carb to protein ratio snack within 30 minutes after working out, followed by a full meal within two hours.
There are shake options out there, but the high sugar content doesn’t always make them the ideal choice to feed your body. When possible, always aim for real food during post-workout recovery. Good options are a half a bagel with peanut butter, chocolate milk, or a chicken breast with fruit if you want more protein.
If you feel you’re missing the components some shakes offer, try glutamine powder mixed into applesauce and BCAA (branched-chain amino acid) capsules with your snack.
While a cold bath doesn’t usually appeal to anyone, it will start to sound a lot better once you feel the results of the reduction in inflammation. Try to do this as soon as you can after your workout.
Fill a bath so it fully covers your legs and hop in. Stay in the bath for about 5-10 minutes, but no more.
The first few moments feel unbearable, but when you settle in you’ll realize it’s not that bad. Take your hot shower before a cold bath, or you may undo its effects.
The next day after you’ve done your cold bath, a warm bath with Epsom salt can help reduce inflammation and pain. As you soak, the magnesium and sulfate from the salt can get into the body through the skin, replenishing magnesium stores which can help you feel relaxed.
Add two cups of Epsom salt to a bath that’s as hot as you can stand, but not burning, and relax for about 20 minutes.
It’s not recommended to take a warm bath the same day as your workout; rely on a cold bath instead immediately following the workout.
Massaging your muscles with a foam roller, massage stick, or trigger point ball are all good options for keeping the blood flowing through your muscles and reducing soreness.
15 minutes of self-massage per day, even when you’re not working out, can help prevent injury and keep your muscles loose.
Focus on the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and lower back. Trigger point balls can be especially useful on the glutes and lower back. Always give your feet some attention as well. They do a lot for us, and we don’t realize how much they do until it’s too late. Focus on the tissue in the arch that connects the toes to the heel and do a few passes with a trigger point ball or golf ball.
Don’t roll too fast. Do several long rolls for each muscle group, holding for 20 seconds on the places that are causing the most pain.
You may also want to consider getting a sports massage once or twice monthly. A good masseuse can target areas in the body that are difficult to massage on our own, such as the arms and upper back. While it can be costly, it can help with injury prevention, stress levels, and sore muscles. Keep in mind that some health insurance companies do offer discounted rates for massage therapy.
It can feel like you deserve to just kick back on the couch for the days following a hard workout, but it’s detrimental to your recovery. Not only can it contribute to stiff, sore muscles, but it the negative effects of sitting can outweigh the positive effort you put into your workout.
Taking a 20-30-minute walk daily and standing every 90 minutes can reduce the effects of sitting and minimize soreness.
Even though you’re sore, you should still attempt to keep moving. Moving keeps the blood moving in your muscles, which aids in recovery. You’ve probably noticed that after extended periods of sitting, it can be hard to get up again due to soreness.
Ease Back In
It’s okay to continue workouts while sore; just make sure you’re listening to your body and not causing pain. If you’ve taken some time off, you might need some time to ramp back up to where you were.
Gradually add to your routine so your body has time to adapt and you’ll likely experience less muscle soreness.
Whether you’re rowing, running, or cycling, try to balance your hard workouts with your easy ones. The rule of thumb is that 80% of your workouts should be done at a low intensity, 20% should be at a high intensity, and avoid any medium intensity sessions. Not only will it help with soreness, but it keeps injuries at bay. This rule can differ per athlete, so determine what is best for you.
Even when you’re doing all the right things, aching muscles are still a normal part of working out. Keep these tips in mind the next time you’re feeling sore, and you’ll feel better faster. Faster recovery means more quality time training. While more training isn’t always better, proper recovery will make sure you always have the opportunity to train more when you want to.