Some fitness fanatics wear their muscle pain like a badge of honor after a rough workout, but the truth is that pain doesn't automatically mean a great session at the gym. When you exercise vigorously, two things happen. First, lactic acid builds up on your muscles as you exert them, resulting in fatigue, and second, microscopic tears appear in your muscle tissue. Both can have you groaning the morning after, but if you're smart about your workout recovery, a little pain won't hold you back from round two.
One of the smartest and easiest ways to ease post-workout pain is to fuel up on protein when you're finished exercising. Protein helps provide your body with the amino acids it needs to rebuild torn muscle tissue after your workout. Just make sure you don't overdo it -- you only need about 10 to 20 grams for a post-workout snack. In fact, chocolate milk serves well as post-recovery drink, so skip out on the pricey protein shakes.
Another reason you might find it hard to get out of bed after a rough workout is the fact that your muscles respond by contracting. That's where you get the tugging sensation when you try and move. Stretching can help loosen up those muscles when you're in pain. Just make sure to be gentle -- there's no need to push your muscles and tendons past a point where you're comfortable. Just try a few basic stretches to limber up the muscles groups causing you pain. For instance, if your quads are killing you, try bending your leg at the knee and grabbing your foot behind you to stretch them out.
Everyone would love a post-workout massage. After all, it can help knead contracted muscles to reduce pain and it just feels good. If you don't have the cash for a masseuse after every workout, get the same treatment from a jetted tub or shower head. Pulse water jets on your sore muscles to find relief and treat yourself to the real thing occasionally. Or, ask your partner for a post-workout massage.
Hot and Cold
There's been some confusion as to whether heat or cold therapy is best for muscles soreness. The best answer is that it takes both to help soothe away pain. First, cold can be used to numb the pain and make it more tolerable. Then, use heat to relax tense and contracted muscles. Use cold the day of your strenuous workout and then swap it out for heat the next day, and you should be able to make it through the day.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make after a tough session at the gym is take the next day off completely. While recovery days are necessary, recovery doesn't mean lying in bed and watching soaps. Instead, recovery days should be those that you fill with light exercise, like walking or a basic yoga class. If you stop physical activity completely, your contracted muscles don't have a chance to stretch, making it more painful when you do move around. Plan a light exercise day after you go into beast mode at the gym and you'll bounce back faster.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.