Tips for relieving muscle soreness after a workout

Sometimes as fitness professionals, we train a new client on a Monday and then Wednesday watch them shuffle back through the door for another session.

“How are you feeling?” We ask this with a little glint in our eye.

“I ripped the toilet paper dispenser out of the wall trying to get off the toilet yesterday,” they say. "Other than that, amazing."

The sarcasm is thick, and we chuckle a little.

“I’m billing you for the repairs.”

I have no statistical proof, but dressing like Jane Fonda may also help reduce soreness. 

I have no statistical proof, but dressing like Jane Fonda may also help reduce soreness. 

We chuckle less. 

That soreness that you experience is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This type of soreness is different from acute soreness, which is pain that develops during the actual activity. Delayed soreness doesn't hit you for the first few hours. It's the next few days that has you cursing a blue streak every time you go down stairs or get up from your chair. 

If you want to add a little science to the sauce, soreness develops as a result of microscopic damage to the muscle fibers involved in the exercise. DOMS is a side effect of the repair process that develops in response to microscopic muscle damage. 

This soreness isn't limited to folks who are new to working out. I've taken the last 10 days off of lifting and decided to celebrate my Thanksgiving Day with a two-hour workout that included clusters of squats. 

All you need to know is that clusters of squats after a few weeks out of the gym was a bad idea. Because walking. 

You are bound to have some soreness when you start a new workout program, but there are a few things you can do to help reduce the soreness after. 

1. Ease into the routine

If you’ve been relatively static for a long time and then someone drags you to an hour-long advanced spin class, you can be sure that you’ll have to roll out of bed the next morning. In my case, I could have gone with four sets of five squats instead of four sets of 20 squats.

That was stupid. I knew better.

And now today I'm going to go cut down a Christmas tree and scream my lungs out trying to get up from the ground. As Sheila tells me often, this fitness thing is going to kill me.  

If you've got a program that calls for four sets of nine different exercises, start with two sets on day one. By the end of the week you'll be ready to add that third set. Allowing your muscles time to adapt to the new stresses can reduce the severity of the soreness you experience in the days following. And the best news is that once you get through that first bout of soreness from those squats, you'll not experience that level of discomfort from DOMS again, until you take another long break from lifting.

Don't take those long breaks if you can help it.  

2. Move

I played volleyball in high school, and we would start the season in August by practicing from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The next morning involved rolling out of bed and army crawling my way to the bathroom. It always seemed impossible to think I was going to manage another day of practice. But miraculously, as we groaned our way through the warm up laps, we felt better. 

The last thing you want to do when you are sore is actually move. But some gentle stretching and light walking will actually help you feel better. When muscles are in recovery mode they tend to tighten up which is only going to make you feel more sore.

3. Light foam rolling or massage and ibuprofen

My legs were so upset with me yesterday that even foam rolling was out of the question. But what I did do was use the tiger stick very lightly on my quads and hamstrings. Again, it's about keeping the blood flowing to the muscles to keep them from getting too tight.

And if all else fails, a low dose of ibuprofen can help take the edge off. Trust me, I'll be using my tiger stick and then taking some ibuprofen before Sheila drags me all over a rainy Christmas tree farm to cut down our tree.


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