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How to – Deal with Post-Workout Muscle Soreness

Maybe it’s the final stretch before December partying kicks in, but a lot of first time exercisers have recently asked me about how to fight post-workout muscle soreness. Do over-the-counter painkillers help ease sore muscles? Can one continue working out even with sore muscles? Does muscle soreness lead to long term muscle injury? Are sore muscles reason enough to quit working out for a week? All very valid questions about dealing with sore muscles. In a nutshell – muscle soreness affects everyone, right from the 16 year old trying to bulk up to Michael Phelps. Read on to discover why working out leads to sore muscles, what you can do to deal with these sore muscles, and even how you can prevent muscle soreness from ruining your brand new workout routine.

What is Post-Workout Muscle Soreness?

Muscle soreness after working out is referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS. MedicineNet says that sore muscles are caused by a swelling in the muscle compartment that results from an influx of white blood cells, prostaglandins (which are anti-inflammatory), and other nutrients and fluids that flow to the muscles to repair the “damage” after a tough workout…. The swelling and inflammation can build up for days after a workout, and that’s why muscle soreness may be worse two, three, or even four days after a workout. 

How Can You Deal with Post-Workout Muscle Soreness – What Works

Painkillers – If all you’re doing is popping one harmless aspirin or combiflam before or after a workout, just once or twice at the start of a new workout routine, it’s not such a big deal. It will offer temporary relief from the sore muscles, maybe even alleviate up to half the tension and muscle soreness.

Stretching – To stretch or not to stretch. We believe in a 10 minute warm up with simple exercises to loosen muscles before a workout, and then a well-planned cool down with adequate stretching at the end of the workout. This combination helps sooth sore muscles, as well as prevent muscle soreness altogether.

Massages – Massages work on the same principle as active recovery, where blood circulation helps sooth the sore muscles and helps them recover. Massages are especially useful if your muscle soreness is accompanied with a mild swelling, for instance swollen ankles after a long run. But be careful not to confuse workout injuries with muscle soreness.

Active Recovery – Light cardio, or aerobic activity aids blood flow within the body, especially in those muscles that are troublesome, and is a great solution for sore muscles. The more you continue to exercise, the sooner you’ll recover from muscle soreness.

Rest and recover – Rest and recover is usually a good idea for athletes and sports persons who have been working out for a long time and need to give their bodies a rest from daily stress and recurring muscle soreness.

Ice bath – Some athletes claim this works, but chances are you’re not going to want to add insult to injury by dunking yourself wholeheartedly into a tub full of ice. Personally, I’d rather live with three days of pain rather than put myself through self-inflicted torture.

R.I.C.E – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Only for extremely painful cases. 9 out of 10 times, the one-hour-a-day exerciser never experiences muscle soreness to the extent of requiring R.I.C.E.

Eat healthy food – Although food’s role in muscle recovery is usually taken for granted, we forget how important the right foods are. For instance, filling up on junk food will not help you fight sore muscles. Eating nutritious meals is the way to go if you want to leave no stone unturned in your quest for a life free of sore muscles.

How to Prevent Post-Workout Muscle Soreness

Increase exercise intensity slowly The general rule is to push yourself only 10% more than the previous week’s workout. In weightlifting, this usually boils down to 2-4 more reps than you included in the previous week’s sets, or five more minutes per cardio activity. Different people will have different thresholds for introducing this 10% progress. If you find that you’re leaning back while lifting weights, then you’re not ready for the particular weight you are attempting to lift. As a thumb rule, if you can’t exercise with a straight back, despite every effort to do so, then you’re over-exerting yourself.

Warm up and cool down: 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after.

Pre-workout snack: Make sure you’re well energised with a good snack about an hour before the workout. Avoid a heavy meal, but definitely look into a nutritious snack that could be in the 200-300 calorie range.

Avoid dehydration: Staying hydrated is essential if you want to avoid sore muscles. Carry a bottle with you, preferably a squeeze bottle that ensures that you take in one or two squeezes worth water in between sets, or sessions. Just a couple of sips in between working out at regular intervals of 10 to 12 minutes are enough. Don’t forget to carry a water bottle to the pool for a swimming pool workout as well. Drink a minimum of 3ltrs of water during the rest of your day.

Proper footwear and exercise gear: To ensure that all you suffer from is a slight case of muscle soreness invest in the right working out gear. These will help prevent workout injuries that can set you back by a few weeks, since all workout injuries require adequate rest and recovery time.

Ask your instructor to introduce at least one day of cross training into your monthly workout schedule. Cross training will ensure that your body is well conditioned to take on new challenges by strengthening different muscle groups. Cross training is also a very effective way to avoid muscle injuries and avoid workout fatigue and boredom.

The good news is that everyone experiences sore muscles whether in the beginning of a new workout routine, or after increasing an existing workout routine’s intensity. As a workout neophyte, you are not in any kind of a disadvantageous position and must not let a simple case of sore muscles dissuade you from continuing your new workout routine.

Sources: WebMD, Sports Medicine in About.com, MedicineNet

About Sasha Gusain

CrossFit and Zone newbie. Anti-sugar, pro-clean.
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