Knowing that you did a really hard workout can be a great feeling, but the feeling quickly goes away when your muscles are so sore the next day that you can barely move. Pain that comes a day or two after exercise is called delayed onset muscle soreness. There are several things you can do to help diminish the pain after you work out and alleviate it once it comes on.
When you've been working out hard, don't just quit cold while your heart's still beating fast and then sit down and relax right away. If you give your muscles a chance to cool down after a workout, they'll hurt less the next day, according to Nicole Nichols, a certified fitness instructor. A good stretch during and after the workout can help cut down on muscle soreness significantly, she says.
If your muscles are sore from weight lifting, take a break the next day and do some light cardio instead. Even if your muscles ache from a good run or other cardio exercise, you should still go for a light jog or an easy bike ride to keep the muscles moving and help the soreness diminish faster. Resting completely without any exercise might cause your muscles to take longer to get better. But don't do anything more intense than very light exercise for at least 72 hours so your muscles have time to heal and aren't re-injured.
Cold and Heat
Alternating cold and warm packs on your sore muscles can help them heal faster. Cold soothes the muscle because it's a natural pain reliever. Warmth relaxes your muscles. Some experts, including certified fitness specialist Phillip Geerts, recommend switching between a bath tub with water between 40 and 55 degrees, and then a tub filled with hot water, for maximum results. He says the difference in temperature can reduce inflammation, decrease delayed onset muscle soreness, change blood flow rates and help maintain an active healing recovery rate. However, consult a doctor before trying this method out, as it can be harmful to people with other health issues.
Food and Water
Proper nutrition can also help your muscles heal faster after an intense workout. When your muscles get dehydrated, they can hurt even more, so make sure you drink plenty of water. Sports drinks are also helpful because muscle soreness can worsen when you don't have enough electrolytes, vitamin or sodium. Take fish oil omega-3 supplements and eat foods with fatty acids like avocados, almonds and salmon. These fatty acids can decrease inflammation and thus help sore muscles heal faster.
A good massage can make all the difference. You can do your own massage by using your body weight against a foam roller to work out knots. Massage the sore area with a foam roller two to three times a day, she recommends, at least twice a week. After massaging, lightly stretch your muscles.
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