Feeling those signs of a good workout? You know, muscle tightness and tingles? Technically known as delayed onset muscle soreness, it is particularly common at the beginning of a new exercise program, change in routine or significant increase in a workout's duration or intensity.
Although it's sometimes a hassle, being sore post-workout is actually your body adapting to increases in strength and stamina as your muscles repair and recover.
When you lift or perform any type of exercise, it causes microscopic tearing of your muscle fibers. The actual amount of tearing and soreness depends on the intensity, duration and type of exercise. Any movement, new or old, can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness; however, eccentric muscle contractions seem to cause the most soreness. Micro-tears are also sometimes accompanied by muscle swelling, another explanation for the pain.
Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to treat soreness after a workout, no best or right game plan. It's essentially unpreventable, but there are several ways to lessen its intensity and duration.
- Ice. Many athletes use an ice bath or alternating hot/cold water in a bath or shower. This has been shown to reduce muscle swelling and inflammation.
- Active recovery. Another effective cool-down technique is low-impact aerobic activity following exercise. It can increase blood flow and reduce muscle soreness.
- Foam Rolling. This provides the same benefits as a deep tissue massage. But instead of someone else doing it, you do it yourself, using your body weight to break down scar tissue within muscles to promote faster recovery.
- Drink Water. Always important, but especially after exercise, because adequate hydration has also been shown to fast-track recovery.
- Post-Exercise Nutrition. It's important to repair and rebuild muscle and replace depleted energy stores by consuming protein and carbohydrate shortly after exercise. (See 6 foods to try out.)
It makes sense that what you do before you hit the gym can prevent sore hamstrings or triceps. Here are some pre-exercise tips. They won't affect your actual training, but they can help reduce the impact of post-workout muscle soreness:
- Increase your exercise time and intensity gradually
- Make sure to warm up thoroughly before activity
- If you aren't sure how to start an exercise program that is safe and effective, hire a personal trainer
- Avoid making sudden major changes to the type, intensity, and/or duration of your workouts
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