Even if you exercise regularly, you've felt it: the aching, can't-sit-down-or-lift-my-arm muscle soreness the next day after a workout. That soreness you feel a day or two after an intense workout is known as DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, and is caused by muscle microtearing, which helps build muscle fiber and make them stronger. I'm always a little pleased to feel sore after a workout, but even so, like many I've been guilty of using it as an excuse to skip out on a workout.
Last week, I was introduced to a few little-used muscles during a leg-focused strength-training session with my trainer at Crunch. Those subsequent days of dreading any stairs that popped up in my path led me to ask him how he deals with muscle soreness, and whether he recommends his clients power through the pain. Trainer Tim's response? Muscle soreness is rarely a good excuse to bypass the gym. Read on for his recommendations for dealing with muscle soreness during your exercise regimen.
- Don't premedicate. "Don't mask what your body is telling you," Tim says. He advises clients to not take painkillers before a workout so they can understand how their body reacts to a workout. Taking Advil before your workout could, for example, cause you to push yourself farther than you should go, or mask an injury until it's too late. If you're experiencing DOMS after a workout, however, an NSAID or other anti-inflammatory OTC painkiller and icing where you hurt can help.
- Assess the pain. It's one thing to have DOMS, which is a good thing. But if you finish a workout and feel like you are uncharacteristically sore, or that you've injured yourself, pushing through the pain may not be the best thing. Make sure you pay attention the difference between an injury pain and normal muscle soreness, and rest if you feel like you've strained something.
- Eat protein. Muscles are made out of protein, so to shorten the time it takes muscles to heal, try to eat some sort of protein right after you exercise. Studies have found that recovery drinks that contain protein help decrease muscle soreness compared to normal carbohydrate-based sports drinks.
- Alternate workouts. Being too sore to workout may be a popular excuse, but it's not always a good one. If you're too sore from a rigorous hike, spend the next day working on your abs or arms. Or try another aerobic exercise or yoga — cardio and stretching can both help soothe your muscles.
No matter how you deal with muscle soreness, it shouldn't last forever. Go see a doctor if you find that your soreness isn't getting any better.
Do you power through the pain and exercise when you're sore?