As littem noted today, sore muscles are a big reason to not exercise. It’s not uncommon to start a workout program and end up pretty sore the day after exercising. (Or to end up sore after going dancing or walking all over Disneyland.) What to do?
First, the bad news: It’s supposed to hurt some if you’re trying to build your muscles. It’s called delayed onset muscle soreness…and it’s normal. (I think they skipped this in PE class!) Stressing your muscles causes them to partially break down and re-grow stronger. This can hurt. Some soreness the day after exercising can mean you’re doing it right. A lot of soreness the day after? Can mean you overdid it.
No one is immune to muscle soreness. Exercise neophytes and body builders alike experience delayed onset muscle soreness.
So, what to do? Ask yourself if you want to be stronger or if you’re happy where you are. Nobody has to exercise — and if you do, you can focus on maintaining where you’re at, not on increasing strength or speed. I choose to exercise for my own selfish reasons, so sometimes I’m sore the next day. Especially when I decide to push myself to see if I can do something. Or forget to do less after not working out for a week. Or get lost in the music and dance an entire concert. Or ….
The rest of this post is divided into preventing soreness and alleviating soreness.
Some ways to try to prevent muscle soreness are:
- Don’t do too much. How do you know what is too much? For walking, think about what you do in your life now, and slightly increase it. I’m not good at estimating distances, so I use gmaps pedometer* to estimate how far it is to walk from my car to my desk, or walking around the mall (Seattle example) or to go around the block. This gave me a starting distance. For strength training, start with bodyweight exercises and focus on how you feel during and after the exercises.
- Stop if something hurts while you’re exercising. Pain during exercise (especially joints) can often mean something’s wrong. This can range from taking a break from dancing to let your feet rest or to sit down on a walk to stretch your back to realizing your ankle is not only hurting but swelling and sprained. If it hurts, stop.
- Warm up and cool down slowly. If you’re using a treadmill, don’t hop on it and immediately start in a your best speed. Start at a slower pace and increase gradually. When you stop, again, slow down gradually. It doesn’t hurt to slowly move around a bit when you’re done, either. With strength training, it can help to warm up by walking or dancing or what-have-you for 10 or 15 minutes first. After strength training, again, spend 10 minutes walking and do some stretches.
- Plan to take days off. Don’t necessarily expect to have the same intensity or speed every day. If you took a week off? You might want to drop it down a notch or two when you start working out again.
- Increase difficulty slowly. There’s not a rush. Maybe you walk a bit further on Monday. This doesn’t have to lock you into doing Monday’s distance on Wednesday. See how you feel.
Yeah, but what if you spent yesterday helping a friend move? And the friend had a zillion books? And you’re really really sore today? What can you do?
- Warmth can help; a hot bath, a warm shower, a heating pad. Warmth can help increase blood flow and encourage healing. I’ve heard that taking a warm shower after a workout and then gradually turning the water colder before getting out can help reduce inflammation, but see what works for you. A warm shower or bath the next morning tends to make me feel a LOT better.
- Gently stretch the sore muscles. This can be after the workout, the next day, or both.
- Massage the sore muscles. Depending on what’s sore you may be able to do it yourself, or a friend or romantic partner might be willing to trade rubs. You may also want to treat yourself to the occasional professional massage.
- Elevation – putting up your feet or legs – can really help alleviate sore feet and legs. A couch or coffee table is often fine. I discovered the “legs up the wall” trick during my first trip to New York; a decade later I found out it’s actually taught in some yoga classes.
- A slow, short walk or swim can help get the kinks out.
- Using an ice pack on a sore spot can reduce inflammation too — it’s what I use on my knee when it’s unhappy.
- Drinking water is usually recommended but wine is also good. ;) So’s ibuprofen or naproxen sodium.
- The final suggestion I would have is to think of how you like to coddle yourself when you’re not feeling well. Do you like to put on your favorite music and read a book in the tub? Put your feet up and do your nails while watching Dr Who? Whatever will make you feel better is a good thing.
What other things have people found helps with sore muscles?
*I find it helpful to set it to “Manually (straight lines)” mode when I’m not actually sticking to city streets. My Seattle example includes walking back and forth in 2 multi-level downtown malls and a couple nearby stores.