The good news: You’ve finally made a commitment to get off your butt and hit the gym. So far, things are going well. You’re getting stronger. Your skinny jeans are slipping on a littler easier. And now that you’re taking better care of yourself, you don’t even crave all the crap you were eating before. But for all the benefits of your new fitness routine, there’s also a problem. After a few days of hitting it hard, you’re in so much pain you can barely make it out of bed, let alone push through another spin class.
Unfortunately, sore muscles are often a necessary evil of getting in shape, but there’s a way to get fast relief without derailing your progress. Here’s how.
It may seem counterintuitive—and very painful—but one of the secrets to beating muscle soreness is to keep working those same muscles, says Jillian Guinta, a personal fitness trainer and yoga therapist. That is, parking on the couch will actually do more harm than good.
“The best possible things you can do are performing aerobic training and stretching,” Guinta says. ”Your cardio session can be anything from a walk, to a swim or a soccer game with friends. This type of activity helps us recover from an intense weight training day by pumping oxygen-rich blood to the sore muscles and helping them more quickly remove built up lactic acid, which is a by-product of the cellular fuel, ATP, that is broken down during anaerobic exercise.
“It is not usually a sign of distress to experience mild to moderate soreness post-workout,” Guinta adds. “It is a normal reaction to weight training because of the breakdown of ATP that takes place.”
Warm Up and Cool Down
Now that you know the importance of continuing to exercise through your soreness, it’s also important to know how to work out. According to Maurice Williams, owner and head personal trainer of Move Well Fitness in Bethesda, Maryland, the key to working through pain is incorporating an effective warm-up and cool-down.
“The warm-up is designed to prepare your body for the exercise you will do that day, and it helps because it increases your heart rate, breathing, tissue temperature, as well as mentally preparing you for the workout,” he says. “Examples of a warm up could include foam rolling, stretching and rhythmic moving such as walking on a treadmill, using an elliptical or jump roping. The cool down is just the opposite of the warm up and its purpose is to bring you from exercising back to a resting state. The benefits include reducing heart and breathing rates, cooling the body temperature and restoring muscles back to their resting lengths. If none of these things are done, then, once again, muscle soreness will continue. Examples of a cool down include stretching, certain yoga poses and breathing techniques.”
Modify Your Movements
In between the warm up and the cool down, the main part of the workout can still be tough to handle even if you’ve taken the steps to prepare your muscles for activity. At that point, when continuing to exercise is important, modifying the movements to reduce pain is what actually makes exercising possible. “Always remember modifications like walking on the treadmill instead of running, or using the bike and lifting lighter weights if the body is in a lot of pain,” says fitness and nutrition expert Jenny Schatzle. “Modifying movements does not mean you’re weak or you can’t keep up; it simply means you’re listening to your body. Any movement is good movement, so don’t be afraid to take it down a notch. You’re not in competition with anyone; the only person you should be in competition with is who you were yesterday!”
Get the Proper Fuel
Proper nutrition is essential in the recovery from tough workouts, says Williams, and when it comes to post-workout fuel that blasts muscles soreness, he turns to the work of renowned strength and conditioning expert Charles Poliquin.
According to Poliquin, some of the best foods to aid in recovery are water, cinnamon, green vegetables and berries.“They help because they have properties in them that help eliminate waste and aid in tissue recovery and repair,” says Williams. “My recommendation is to take those ingredients and add them to a protein powder in the form of a smoothie. A liquid based nutrition product gets into the blood stream faster and, as a result, can help with recovery faster.”
If you’ve been looking for an excuse to treat yourself to a spa day, a little muscle soreness is the perfect reason. Start with a massage, which, says Schlatze, “helps in reducing inflammation as well as bringing oxygen into the muscles.” If you don’t have the cash to pay someone to give you a massage, you can also try foam rolling, which is, essentially, self-massage. “This helps release tightness and knots that form in the muscle,” Schlatze adds. “Foam roll before and after a workout, and if you find a tight spot, stay on it for about 30 seconds and let it release.”
Finally, after a workout, try an Epsom salt bath. “Put two cups of Epsom salts in hot or warm bath water and soak your body for 20 minutes,” Schlatze says. “Epsom salts relieve stress and inflammation, and they replenish magnesium in the body. Plus, you deserve 20 min of you time, so grab a book, put on some soothing tones, relax and enjoy yourself!”