You have probably heard it a million times: No pain, no gain. While some pain is not good (muscle strain or tear, broken bones, tendonitis, etc.), some pain is a sign that you are doing things right. A good kind of pain is muscle soreness, a feeling that is brought on by microscopic tears in your muscles caused by a hard workout. This is not a bad thing, but lack of knowledge about soreness and a lack of understanding on how to respond to soreness could lead to further pain and serious injury.
What Causes Soreness
When you workout, your muscles experience very, very small tears which then heal by producing more muscle tissue, leading to increased muscle mass, strength, endurance, etc. But sometimes your body is not quite ready for the extent of work you put it through and those tears are more pronounced than usual. When this happens, the body sends lactic acid to those muscles to cause fatigue and (you guessed it), soreness. This is your body’s way of saying, “You pushed it hard yesterday. Now let me take a break and recover!”
How to Handle Soreness
If you are working hard, soreness is a foregone conclusion; it is going to happen. Don’t complain about it; be glad because you know that you worked hard and your body will reap the benefits once it repairs itself. However, when you experience muscle soreness in a certain area of your body, there are some things you can do to help speed up recovery and minimize discomfort:
Sore muscles are tight muscles. Slow, gentle stretching of the area will relieve tightness and increase blood flow.
Massaging a sore muscle can help reduce tightness while promoting blood flow, which in turn helps speed recovery as nutrients reach your muscles and lactic acid is pushed out.
Low-dose, over-the-counter painkillers—anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen) in particular—help reduce pain from muscle soreness by reducing inflammation.
Warm water helps to loosen up tight muscles and improve circulation. Better blood circulation means more oxygen and nutrients getting to your muscles. Adding epsom salts to the bath can further the process.
If it is really bad, you can alternate between applying an ice pack and a heat pack every 15 minutes. Studies have shown that alternating cold and heat can be highly effective in promoting blood circulation and muscle recovery.
Nutrition for Soreness
While there is no magic cure for muscle soreness, there are some pro-active measures you can take to minimize the onset of muscle soreness:
Vitamin E is essential to muscle recovery, along with a whole slew of other nutrients. A multi-vitamin is packed with the nutrients needed to promote muscle recovery and minimize soreness. You should already be taking a multi-vitamin, but if you aren’t it is time to start now.
Omega-3 Fish Oil
Omega-3 fish oils are a natural anti-inflammatory and also help promote muscle recovery. Taking fish oil will improve your body’s ability to recover after a hard workout.
Your muscles need protein immediately after a workout. Providing quality protein to your muscles right away will help kick off the recovery process and minimize soreness.
Creatine prevents the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles, thus preventing excessive muscle soreness and promoting faster recovery. Creatine is naturally found in red meat and our bodies naturally produce it, but taking a creatine supplement is helpful for promoting muscle recovery.
How to Avoid Excessive Soreness
Key word: excessive. Soreness is inevitable if you are working hard, but there are a few things you can do to minimize the affects of soreness:
Stretching at the end of every workout is important to promote blood flow and reduce tightness. This will help the body to flush lactic acid from your muscles and get nutrients to your tired muscles faster.
Foam rolling is effective for targeting specific areas in order to relieve tension. The premise is that you can use you body’s weight to move pressure across a specific area, promoting blood flow and recovery.
As mentioned above, proper use of supplements can fill in the nutritional gaps in your diet and ensure that your muscles are getting the nutrients needed to prevent excessive soreness.
Rest is a crucial element of recovery. Getting sufficient rest will give your body ample time to repair itself and recover. Make sure you are getting 8-9 hrs of sleep each night. You can even use Wilderness Athlete’s Nighttime Optimizer to maximize recovery while sleeping.
Know Your Limits
Excessive soreness is often attributed to doing too much, too fast. You need to know your limits and slowly build up your workout intensity, especially if it has been a while since you last did regular exercise or if you are recovering from an injury.
Soreness is inevitable if you are working out correctly. If you are pushing yourself and constantly trying to improve, you will get sore. However, you can follow the advice in this article to minimize soreness and maximize recovery.