Whether you’re a Zumba, spinning, running or kickboxing queen, your muscles will inevitably tell you to slow down. And it’s up to you to listen and treat them right. If you don't, you put yourself at risk for injury. Listening to your body’s cues can be a hard lesson to learn, especially if you feel compelled to go to the gym every day and work out for hours at a time. Treating yourself to some rest and relaxation may be the best move.
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Implement RICE -- rest, ice, compression and elevation -- at the first sign of muscle soreness. Often used as a first-aid treatment for acute injuries, the RICE protocol works for general soreness as well. Some tenderness is a sign that you've challenged your muscles. Other times, soreness and stiffness indicate injury. A fine line exists between soreness and pain. Either way, RICE is a good treatment.
To perform RICE, rest stiff muscles, apply ice to the area for about seven minutes, lightly compress the muscle with a bandage to decrease excessive blood flow to the area and, if you can, elevate the injured area by using a pillow. Then it's time to put on a movie or take a nap.
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Stretch for at least 10 minutes at the end of your workout. If you have only 45 minutes to complete your workout at the gym, stop after 35 minutes and stretch, especially major muscles groups like your hamstrings, quadriceps, back, chest and shoulders.
If the idea of losing workout time to stretching makes you cringe, consider doing yoga two or three times a week. You can access great yoga sessions at gyms, community centers and even the Internet. A yoga class will give you the opportunity to stretch.
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Get a massage. If you can't, do it yourself. A professional massage is a good approach to reducing inflammation and relaxing stiff muscles. Regular massage is even better. If your budget won’t allow for a professional massage, target sore trigger points with a foam roller, an inexpensive product that massage and physical therapists recommend to clients for self-massage. Spend at least 10 minutes after your workout on sore areas and major muscles groups. The foam roller also helps alleviate general back stiffness.
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Mix up your workouts. Repetitive exercise like running, swimming and cycling demand a lot of power from the same muscles. Overloading the muscles like this commonly leads to stiffness and loss of range of motion. Try a workout boot camp, dance class or martial arts session. This can help you use different muscles while giving your overused muscles a break.
- Stretch your muscles after exercise when your muscles are still warm.
- Schedule rest days and periods of lighter training into your training plan.
- If you experience signs of overtraining, consult your personal trainer and your doctor.
- Tell the instructor if you are new to class or have an injury.
- Trying a new sport may increase risk of injury; always use caution when starting a new exercise regimen.
Britta Kallevang has written for Running Times and has extensive experience in fitness and exercise. She has taught composition creative writing and Norwegian. Britta holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature, a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and a Master of Arts in Scandinavian language and literature.