Everyone knows the feeling. You haven't worked out in forever and you go crazy hard because you're motivated again. The next 48 to 72 hours are filled with walking like a duck, taking 10 minutes to go down steps, and dreading every time you have to use the toilet. Muscle soreness for some is a badge of honor, but it can be prevented and for better muscle and strength gains in my opinion it should be avoided.
If you are so sore to the point you can't walk right chances are your body is under extreme stress. Extreme stress causes many health issues. Also, if you are sore to the point you can't walk, it obviously effects your everyday life and your motivation to keep training.
My top 5 ways to prevent or alleviate soreness are the following
Warm-up- A simple warm-up has been shown in multiple studies to reduce muscle soreness, but more importantly not reduce the muscle force (J Hum Kinet. 2012 Dec;35:59-68). Therefore leaving you the ability to lift heavier or run faster!
Many studies have shown stretching does not reduce muscle soreness. A 2002 study performed at the School of Physiotherapy at the University of Sydney found that stretching in amateur athletes did not help alleviate soreness (British Medical Journal 325:468-470). A 2003 study in Manual Therapy had similar findings.
A new popular trend, foam rolling has also been shown to have no effect on soreness, but could actually cause more soreness (Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Jan;46(1):131-42).
I personally like to use these studies, but also personal experience. I've had some success with alleviating muscle soreness with both stretching and foam rolling. However I found if I stretched or rolled too intensely I had a negative effect.
- Diet- If you start to workout more, you must eat more. Hopefully from quality nutrient dense sources. Increasing carbohydrates in your diet can help pull more water into your muscles. A properly hydrated body/muscle will force nutrients to the muscle and keep them functioning properly.
Consuming the proper amount of protein will help your muscles recover as well. Protein synthesis is at it's highest after a workout. It can remain elevated up to 24 hours after your workout.
As mentioned before proper water intake is a must. Drink half your body weight in fluid ounces. 150 pound person would drink 75 fluid ounces. A properly hydrated muscle will have more nutrients available, function properly, and more easily flush toxins out of the body.
- Perform between 3-6 reps- Keeping your rep range lower for the first few weeks may be optimal. Most muscle damage happens during the eccentric phase of the movement. Examples of an eccentric ROM would be the lowering of a push-up or lowering of a squat. Limiting the amount of reps is the easiest way to limit the number of eccentric movements. Dropping weights when performing Olympic lifts and deadlifts help you avoid eccentric movements. Cardio wise, limit the amount of times you walk or run down hill, as the eccentric force is greater when going downhill.
- Functional movement- Just like prior to working out a good warm-up can help, it can also help after. If you are sore the worst thing you could do is sit and do nothing. Moving your muscles moves your lymphatic system which rids the body of soreness.
- Sleep- Like they use to say in the 90's when an answer was so obvious ... "duh". Sleep rejuvenates the body. If your not getting enough you will be more sore or sore longer!
Workout hard, but smart this week. Try to focus on some of these aspects to help you this week.
Mark Radio is CPT through ACSM, certified nutritional counselor, and has a BA in Exercise Science. He is an Exercise Physiologist/Manager for Body Elite Inc. and owner of Hardcore Home Fitness, LLC.