5 Quick Tips for Sore Muscles After Exercise

Tips for Sore Muscles After ExerciseFeeling “Tore Up” After Your Latest Workout? Ease the Soreness with Some Quick Tricks!

You know you’ve had a good workout at the gym when your muscles are sore and aching the following day. Also known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), this is the direct result of  microscopic tears in the muscle tissue. Most people experience DOMS after performing bouts of intense strength training and HIIT exercises. These intense workouts creates small tears in the muscle fibers, leading to a general sore, aching sensation in the days to follow.

You will also experience muscle soreness when starting a new workout program or changing up your phase of training. If your workout fails to make you sore at all, it actually may be time to change it up! Muscle soreness is “productive pain”, meaning that it is normal and in fact a necessary evil when you’re getting stronger. Soreness is an indication that you have challenged your muscles enough that they will become better, faster, and stronger as they heal. Part of healing your sore muscles is just waiting it out. Nothing can take the soreness away 100% except time.

Thankfully, though, you can reduce some of the uncomfortable super-sore feelings by trying a few simple tricks.

#1. Mild-Pressure Massage

A mild-pressure massage can be an effective technique for reducing muscle soreness following an intense workout. The light pressure of a massage will naturally reduce tension while improving circulation. In addition to reducing muscle pain, a mild-pressure massage will also encourage faster recovery thanks to the increase in blood flow. Just remember to stick with mild-pressure massages and not heavy deep-tissue massages. Deep tissue massage is great, but not so much the day after leg day! As an alternative to paying for a massage, consider self-myofascial release using a foam roller, which is something you should be doing anyway during your warm ups and cool downs.

#2. Ice Pack

Don’t worry about those crazy ice baths you see athletes taking in movies. Brrrr! However, you can use the same principle by applying a simple ice pack. A bag of frozen peas works well, because the small, round veggies inside the sack will conform to the shape of whatever you’re icing. Applying ice can ease up some of the pain and swelling caused by the muscle tears from a hard workout. The cool sensation will naturally reduce some of your post-workout pain along with minor amounts of inflammation. The best practice is to place the ice pack on your affected muscles for no more than 20 minutes, remove and wait 10-20 minutes before reapplying, and only repeating a couple of times. Too much icing can lead to tissue damage.

#3. Heat Compress

A heat compress can work just as well as — if not better than  — an ice pack. In a pinch, you can pick up disposable heating pads from most drug stores for less than a buck a piece, but a more eco-friendly long-term solution is to invest in a small electronic heating pad. Place either of these items directly on the affected muscles for 20-30 minutes. Don’t heat sore muscles for more than 20-30 minutes or it may become counterproductive, causing more swelling. If a heat compress alone isn’t offering enough relief, use it in conjunction with an ice pack, alternating between the two in 20-minute intervals. If you’re going to work out again and are trying to ease up some of the soreness beforehand, you can use heat for that, too. Applying heat to the sore areas will help get the blood flowing and decrease tension. Icing before a workout is a bad idea because it decreases needed blood flow to the area, but it’s just fine afterwards. The reverse is true for heat. If you’re applying heat or ice before or after workouts, remember this rule: “heat before, ice after.”

#4. “Hair of the Dog”

If you’re super sore and stiff in the days following a particularly intense workout, sometimes the best thing is to JUST GET MOVING. It’s kind of like the old practice of “the hair of the dog that bit you” for a hangover, but it’s much healthier in the long run. Although when you’re sore and tired, you might feel like doing nothing but laying around lamenting your state, try some light exercise. Keep it mild. Try walking or some other light cardio. Maybe some yoga or an easy bike ride. If it’s been over 48 hours, try some strength training that was similar to what made you sore in the first place, but with the intensity dialed back. Exercise will promote blood flow to the areas and speed your body’s natural healing processes. It might seem counterintuitive, but when you have muscle soreness, one of the worst things you can do is just sit around doing nothing. That just compounds the problem.

#5. Suck it Up and Work Through it

Remember that some soreness is a natural and needed part of becoming stronger and more fit. When you’re doing regular workouts with proper progressions, you WILL get sore. There’s just no getting around it! Try to embrace the sore feeling and congratulate yourself for kicking your own butt to the level needed to make improvements. Unless you have an injury, or the soreness is very severe, you need to keep going with your regular workouts, making sure you rest 48 hours between strength training sessions for the same muscle groups. If you’re serious about strength training, it’s not a good idea to take more than a couple days off max. Work through the soreness, and with time, you will become less sore. When your workout doesn’t make you sore at all for an extended period of time, it’s time to consider progressing to the next level so you can get that “productive pain” back!

BONUS #6. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Another technique for soothing post-workout muscle pain is to take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen sodium. Unlike acetaminophen (Tylenow), NSAIDs work by reducing inflammation within the body. When the muscle fibers are torn from intense workout sessions, they may also experience some inflammation. Taking an NSAID will target inflammation caused by your workouts, reducing both the swelling along with some of the pain associated with it. That being said, only take NSAIDs when it’s absolutely necessary. Taking too much NSAIDs on a regular basis can adversely affect your health in a number of different ways. They will also become less effective with overuse.

The Bottom Line

Muscle soreness doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks! Next time you’ve got that sore, tender feeling in the days following a tough workout session, try the simple tricks we’ve discussed above to find out what will work best to get you back in action.

Did we forget any of your favorite ways to ease sore muscles? Let us know in the comments below!

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Author Profile: Shannon Clark

Shannon holds a degree in Exercise Science and is a certified personal trainer and fitness writer with over 10 years of industry experience.

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his or her own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Ask The Trainer.
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