A tough workout can really get the adrenaline pumping and the endorphins flowing but while you feel pumped on your journey home from the gym, it’s likely that you also have that pang of dread as you know muscle soreness will soon kick in.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) after a workout can be looked at as a sign of achievement, there’s nothing comfortable about the aches and pains that ensue after a hardcore workout and if you allow your body to recover the right way – you don’t have to suffer to get a fit and healthy physique.
In fact, despite what you might think, after you log your final mile or finish your last set, your workout is not yet over and one of the most important parts is still to come – the warm down exercises.
So, to help you combat muscle soreness, we have put together a useful guide on how to ease aches so that you can enjoy your next workout - even after the final squat!
Stretching before an intense workout is one of the most effective ways to avoid muscle soreness. It’s all about preparing your body for the imminent exercise and careful prep can reduce and even combat painful DOMS.
There is one type of stretching you can do before a workout and one type that you should do after a workout, namely:
These gentle stretches are the best way to get started and should be done before exercising, and they involve moving the muscles to warm them up. The stretches can become faster and more rigorous the longer you do them, so start off gently before turning up the speed.
Twisting while you lunge, swinging and kicking your legs, pulling your knees to your chest and walking lunges are great examples of dynamic stretches.
Static stretches involve extending the muscles to the far reaches of their range of motion and holding the muscles in position before relaxing. While this type of stretching used to be something many athletes did pre-workout, in more modern times many experts recommend that they should be done as part of a warm down rather than a warm up and include bending the head and neck, stretches the hamstring, arms and shoulders, and side bends.
Proper hydration will prevent a whole host of potential problems post-workout, including inflammation that causes muscle soreness and cramps.
While specialist sports drinks are good for replacing lost sodium and electrolytes after a particularly sweaty workout in hot weather or because you are pushing extra hard, water is the best way to hydrate your body.
Top Tip: You should drink water before, during and after your workout and mix your hydration habits with some protein shakes and low-sugar sports drinks for the best results.
Warming up isn’t only about stretching and it is also about getting into your routine at a slow and steady pace. Too many gym-bunnies want to get stuck straight in and not having the patience to stretch and warm-up will almost always cause DOMS.
Take your time and start off slowly and this is especially important if you want to do some weight training. Begin by doing some cardio work, as this will warm your muscles up, followed by some gentle skipping and finally some more intense jumping jacks and easing your body into exercise is an important part of any workout regime.
So, you stretched, hydrated, warmed up and completed your workout but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s all over just yet!
Just as it’s vital to get started slowly, it is equally as important to finish at a controlled pace and warming down and static stretches are all part of the process. If you are on a treadmill, slow it down to walking pace for a few minutes rather than going from a full-on sprint to a standstill and if you have been busy lifting weights; take some time to do some dynamic stretching or light yoga to gently reduce your heartrate.
Stretching relieves tension and accelerates the healing process of your muscles after they start breaking down as a result of the exercise. This recovery stage at the end of a workout session will reduce muscle soreness post-exercise and spending 10 minutes winding your heart and muscles down to a regular level is as significant to good health as the more energetic portion of the workout.
According to personal trainer Jenn Burke, suddenly stopping physical activity can be extremely bad for your body: “Blood can pool in your legs when you go from high exertion levels to zero and a loss in blood pressure can make you very dizzy”.
Don’t make the mistake of collapsing into a heap on the floor after your final rep and instead try jumping into a bath filled with ice.
Taking an ice-cold plunge may not sound too appealing but it can go a long way to help you to feel much better post-exercise. Often referred to as cold therapy, ice baths will reduce swelling after a hard session and not only with it invigorate the body immediately; it will ensure you are less sore the following day.
We all know how important water is to keep the body is well-hydrated but did you know that drinking pineapple juice can decrease muscle soreness?
An enzyme called bromelain is famed for its anti-inflammatory powers and if you are not a fan of pineapples, you can also find various supplements in health stores that contain bromelain that are equally as effective.
Interesting Fact: Eating tart cherries or drinking unsweetened cherry juice is also a terrific way to ease inflammation of the muscles.
By far the most enjoyable way to unwind your body and muscles after a demanding workout is to get a massage. Damage, swelling and inflammation of the muscles can be radically reduced and these are the only benefits of massage.
Relax Your Mind! There is also a psychological advantage to massage, as it encourages your mind as well as your body to unwind and relax.
The key to an effective massage is to ensure that the pressure isn’t too strong and that it doesn’t go too deep into the muscles, as this can have actually cause more damage, which is why it is essential to realign your muscles as often as possible.
There’s often a lot of confusion about whether you should apply a hot or a cold compress to help soften pain and decrease swelling and that’s because both can be effective.
Let’s take a look at the ways in which cold and heat can have an effect on muscle soreness:
Cold: Cold compresses have analgesic properties that will stave off inflammation and therefore cold packs should be applied immediately after a workout.
Heat: Heat pads work to loosen sore muscles and stimulate blood flow, which will speed up the healing process. And heat should be applied the following day to reduce swelling and pain.
Ice then heat is the way to go and you can even apply heat directly before exercise to help to warm them up.
The process of working out is similar to that of writing a book. You only get a good story when there’s a beginning, middle and end and a productive workout session will be most valuable when you take the time to start and finish it properly. While the middle may be the main attraction, without an introduction and a conclusion – the value is significantly reduced.
So, start by stretching, warming-up and hydrating before getting stuck into the exercise routine and finish by stretching, warming-down, rehydrating, icing, heating and a massage and muscle soreness after exercising will soon become a thing of the past.
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