Sore muscles are something that most exercise enthusiasts will experience, whether it’s from starting a new style of exercise (TRX is a killer!), or simply pushing yourself really hard, muscle soreness is often the byproduct of stressing your muscle fibers to initiate growth and development. I’ve always found that there is something slightly satisfying about having a little DOM’s (delayed onset muscle soreness) after a particularly gruelling training session. It lets me know that I have challenged myself and that my muscles are working to adjust and adapt, becoming stronger and more resilient than before.
That being said, having really sore muscles can be more than a little uncomfortable. It can also be a little inconvenient if you are finding it difficult to climb stairs, sit down or even just to walk normally when you have important social appointments (like perhaps a work meeting, or even a date!).
Here are four approaches I use to help reduce muscle soreness, as well as ways to help prevent it!
Even though exercising when your muscles are already sore from overuse might be the last thing on your mind, active recovery is actually an excellent way to not only quicken your recovery time but also help reduce your discomfort. Active recovery can take many forms, but basically is it means exercising at a lower intensity and/or with less volume. Some excellent examples are walking, light jogging, swimming and even resistance training using light weights, or body-weight only. Choose a type of exercise that works the muscles that are aching, in a way that will not place too much pressure on them. E.g. If you have done a super squat/lunge/deadlift session, and your quads and glutes are aching, try going for a steady power walk to activate those muscles and help stimulate blood flow to them.
Even though stretching muscles that are hurting can be a little painful, it is actually a great way to stimulate oxygen-rich blood into those areas and support the regrowth process. The problem is that over stretching cold muscles (for example, first thing in the morning) can cause more damage, it is best to use the stretching after first doing some active recovery exercising.
Foam rollers use applied pressure, in the form of self-massage, to help stimulate blood flow into the muscles that are aching. Foam rollers are also good for helping release knots and tightness that forms in muscles due to stress or overuse.
Increasing the temperature of an area stimulates blood flow, which in turn helps support the healing process as well as provides pain relief. You can enjoy a hot bath with some Epsom salts and essential oils, or just apply a heat pack. There are also peel and stick heat patches that can be applied and worn under most clothing without being seen, so you can have the warming relief whilst going about your normal activities.
A little soreness is normal, but more intense pain can usually be avoided. If you are finding you are often left limping for days after an intense training session, then consider the following:
Warm up - This doesn’t mean stretch, it means to prepare the body parts you intend to use. If you are going sprinting, start with a fast walk then a slow jog before you hit the accelerator. If you are hitting the weights, try a little cardio beforehand to work into the parts you are using, such as some burpees, light jogging, or skipping.
Don’t over do it - Know your own limitations. Yes, it is great to push yourself to get stronger, but that doesn’t mean pushing yourself so hard you cause damage. This will only result in muscle damage that will take longer to recover from. Just increase your resistance/intensity/distance or time in stages appropriate for you. Listen to your body, it will usually tell you when something is too much!
Omega 3’s - Making sure you have enough omega 3s in your diet so that you have all the building materials needed to repair and rebuild is important. Omega 3s actually help reduce inflammation and reduce soreness, so if you are not getting enough in your diet ( walnuts, flaxseeds and salmon are all great sources!) then you should consider using a supplement.
- Warm down - Warming down is a big one! Stretching after intense use helps your muscles release some of the lactic acid that has built up, as well as slowly warming the muscles down. Both of which help reduce the risk of DOM’s.