Updated: Oct 24, 2021
Earlier this week I took a workout class for the first time and pushed myself pretty hard. I though that because I'm a runner, I could handle it, but boy was I wrong. My muscles are so sore, I can only shuffle around slowly and stairs are NOT my friend right now.
This time of year we are all anxious to get outside and go on hikes, walks and get our bodies moving. Every time we work muscles that we do not use regularly or push our bodies harder than they are accustom to, we experience muscle fatigue and soreness. We are going to look at the ways you can prepare and recover from muscle exertion. Soreness is most common for anyone who has just started weight training, intensified their exercise routine, or performed a strenuous cardio activity. Exercise can cause microtrauma (micro-tears) to the muscle fibers, which causes them to become swollen and sore after about 12 – 24 hours post workout. More swelling can also occur from the increased blood flow muscles receive during physical activity. The first key to recovering quickly is identifying the cause of your pain or ending up sidelined for a while. Muscle soreness can last up to 72 hours, so if you find the feeling of pain in your muscles is lasting a week or more, you may have a strain. It’s important to listen to your body. A strain occurs when those same muscles that are torn during exercise are torn in larger amounts and to more significant degrees—and takes several weeks to heal.
HYDRATE. Make sure you’re properly hydrated before and during your workout. Muscle cells need water to recover, so always drink enough water throughout the day and keep yourself hydrated while exercising. Keep a water bottle with you at all times, even if you’re running or biking.
WARM-UP. Never forget to warm-up before your workout! Warming up is essential to a great workout and muscle recovery because it improves blood circulation. One of the worst things you can do for your body is jumping straight into a workout without helping your body transition into exercise-mode.
USE PROPER FORM. Be sure that you’re using proper form while lifting weights, using equipment, and performing any other exercises.
ICE/ICE BATH. If you’re prone to muscle soreness and tenderness after a good workout, try taking an ice bath when you get home. Ice baths can help prevent inflammation before it starts. I do not have this option, as I do not have a bathtub, but you can also use ice packs on areas of the body that you know you worked hard. In my case, my quadracep muscles (top of legs above the knees) needed icing only. Use an ice pack wrapped in a towel and apply to your sore spots. Be sure not to apply ice directly to your skin as this can cause irritation and damage to your skin tissue. Use an ice pack for short periods of time, several times a day. This should temporarily numb some of the pain and reduce swelling.
EAT. Make sure you are getting the nutrients your body needs for muscle recovery. You need healthy proteins, carbs, and fats to help repair and maintain muscles. You can also try eating some healthy foods that naturally reduce inflammation, like tomatoes, olive oil, dark leafy greens, fatty fish, avocados and cherries.
KEEP MOVING. Use those muscles! Soreness actually increases when you don’t use the muscles that have been exercised. While you should avoid any vigorous activities that cause pain, sitting on the couch all day with little movement can actually increase the swelling and cause the soreness to last even longer. Try doing some light stretches to help your muscles recover faster.
MASSAGE. Gently massage your sore spots. Massaging provides a feeling of instant relief and helps ease pain and tenderness. You can also try using a foam roller to massage any sore areas. Both techniques are known to enhance muscle recovery after physical activity. In closing, please listen to your body. Pushing yourself is good and essential to building muscle, but there is such a thing as going too far and you do not want to cause an injury. We owe our bodies all the TLC we can give them!