The achy feeling can be oh-so-good yet feel oh-so-bad. That soreness in your quads is letting you know that you worked the muscles super hard during your squat set and that they’re now rebuilding themselves and getting stronger. Yes, it may feel uncomfortable for a moment, but you know the results are worth it. In the meantime, knowing the best way to handle the soreness will help you keep moving and even geared up for the next round at the gym.
Why You're Sore
When you add a new activity or increase the intensity level of something you’ve been doing for a while, your muscles will tear slightly. That’s totally normal, and actually good because your body will work to rebuild the muscles at a stronger level in order to handle the same load and demand next time. As this rebuilding takes place, though, it’s going to be a little painful. Thus, if you’ve increased your squat routine either in number of reps or total weight, you can rest in knowing that the soreness is actually a good thing and that your legs will be stronger for it.
You don’t just have to grin and bear sore muscles, although you certainly can. There are a number of ways to relieve the ache, including taking over-the-counter pain relievers, massage and light exercise. Another effective method is to take an ice or cold-water bath. While certainly not the most comfortable treatment, according to research published in the Washingtonian, this method of treatment helped reduce the soreness of a study group by 20 percent after one to four days. If you’ve got the guts, jump in for a cold, therapeutic experience.
Food Can Help
Outside of physical treatments, there are several foods that can help relieve muscle soreness after a good squat workout. These foods have anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants that have been proven to help your body recover more quickly from heavy lifting and exercise. Try “Eating Well’s” top four, which include blueberries, tart cherries, pomegranates and ginger.
When to Return
Knowing how soon to return to the squat machine after a tough workout can be what the “Chicago Tribune” calls a delicate balance involving light cardio exercise to stimulate muscle healing and a proper rest period for the quads. According to the “Tribune,” exerting slight pressure on the muscles through light exercise causes the muscle fibers to become more fibrous, able to withstand greater stress during harder workouts later. In the meantime, it’s OK to do light lifting on the muscles while they're still sore, but it’s best to wait until they're pain-free before you challenge them to the same level (or greater) again.
After graduating from the University of Kansas with a bachelor's degree in sports information, Jill Lee served for 10 years as a magazine editor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Also a published author, Lee now works as a professional writer and editor focusing on fitness, sports and careers.