By Christopher Cudworth
It happens. You overdo it. Then you’re sore for days.
Soreness is the product of muscles and connective tissue that have been strained. The stretching and exhaustion that occurs in body tissue under stress can lead to profound soreness.
But relax. Soreness has a purpose. It’s the body’s way of telling you that you need to back off or treat the soreness with respect. Soreness is a form of pain designed to keep you from doing additional damage to your body–the kind that doesn’t heal so quickly.
So what should you do when you get sore? Sore muscles can be devastating to your daily workout routine. You need strategies to help you get past the soreness and back on the road or in the gym. Here’s a few rules you can follow to return to form.
1. Hydrate like crazy.
Fluids are important to restoring sore muscles to full, unhindered function. If you forget to drink after a hard workout, you are much more likely to get sore and stay sore. Soreness prevention begins during your workout and it absolutely must follow your workout to keep your muscles and joints from essentially “drying out” in ways that let muscle fibers get tender and raw. Keep drinking fluids during the days you feel sore, using not only water but liquids with electrolytes and other nutrients to refuel muscles. Lactid acid is one of the reasons why muscles get sore. You need to flush it out with water and fill those muscles back in with good stuff.
2. Keep warm.
Stiff muscles do not like the cold. Think about it: When you’re out working in severe cold the feeling you get in your muscles and joints is one of stiffness. Cold muscles contract and can’t flex as well. It stands to reason that if you’re already sore from a workout, warming the area can help you build back into a zone where you can use those muscles again. Taking a warm shower before working out at the gym is a reasonable response to soreness gained from doing core work or weightlifting.
But if you’re sore from a long run or ride, it can also help to use a warm bath or shower to loosen muscles before bed or before heading off to work where your sore muscles have to hold you up all day at a desk. Dress a little warmer. Drink warm fluids. Give your body a chance to recover. Give hugs.
3. Get a massage. If you can take it.
Some soreness honestly needs to be left alone a day or two before you can knead those muscles back into function. A good massage can really help the process. Giving a massage to someone who is sore requires constant communication to prevent additional damage to already damaged tissue. If you are getting a massage you must also communicate what levels of pressure are acceptable. Trust a good massage therapist in any case to know the difference. Many times the short term pain is worth the long term gain.
Therapists know the feel of sore and damaged tissue. They can even discern “where it hurts” at critical muscle junctures. Also be careful about the “belly” of any muscle. where soreness can get a little flighty and difficult to heal. Use broad motions and flattened hands at first if you are giving a massage to someone who is sore. Give those muscles a chance to increase blood flow. It’s okay to just hold the muscle in your hand and warm it. Again, soreness is about cellular constriction and inflammation. So you need to help blood in and out of the area, yet not make it worse!
Massage is the fine art of “listening” to muscle. You will earn a rightful spot in heaven if you do this well for someone else.
4. Stay active as you can.
If your core is sore from a hard workout, you may feel like curling up and doing nothing for 4-5 days. Resist the temptation. Same goes for sore calves or thighs. Use them. Gently. Active recovery is vital to ongoing training. If your core is sore, get in the pool and swim. If your calves are sore, hit the bike or spin machine and let muscles absorb heat and blood from consistent motion. There is always a way to “train around” soreness that keeps your fitness up and your risk down.
5. Alter your workout schedule.
This one goes with #4 of course. If you suddenly pull up lame from a too-long or too-hard effort on the bike or the run, it makes no sense to come back two days later with yet another hard workout. That’s asking for outright injury. Remember, soreness is you getting lucky that you did not actually pull something.
That’s one of the tarsnakes of working out. You simply have to push hard in order to get fit. Yet when you push too hard you can get injured. Knowing when to pull back is critical, and soreness is one of the key signs that you will not gain from going hard again right away.
6. Have sex instead.
This whole thing was getting a little testy and dry, don’t you think? We Run and Ride believes in alternate forms of therapy at all times. That means we highly recommend the therapeutic treatment of rubbing your warm body against another warm body. Best treatment for soreness you’ll ever find. Like they say, anyway. No pain, no gain. Have at it.
7. Eat as well as you can.
Your short term diet counts when you’re sore. Along with fluids, eating fresh fruits and vegetables amounts to a “backfill” of muscle tissue. Enjoy some protein as well. That goes straight to the issue of the tissue.
8. Use pain relievers judiciously.
It’s easy to load up on ibuprofen and head back out to train. Not so smart. Recently it’s been discovered that ibuprofen can make stomach distress from exercise worse. There’s even evidence it may may some forms of inflammation worse. Inflammation has even been linked as a possible increased risk of cancer. That’s why the “natural” responses to soreness listed above precede use of pain relievers.
9. Repeat the same workout when recovered. Only smarter.
Often soreness is the result of trying something completely new. A new routine. A new pace. Increased weight or reps. Soreness results when muscles are taxed to their maximum. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid the workout that caused the soreness in the first place. You likely learned from your experience that led to soreness. But you must get back on your horse and ride, so they say. If your core workout killed your gut for a few days, be proud that you found something that works. When you go back, take it a bit slower perhaps, especially in the decline mode. Soreness often comes about from “jerking” ourselves into position when we tire. Get smart and get back at it the right way.
10. Learn from experience.
Physical exertion requires concentration and experience to create the most benefit. As an athlete you need to learn what led to getting sore in the first place. That doesn’t mean you always back off when getting tired. In fact, it often means the opposite. Learning how to push through pain and not cause soreness, inflammation or injury is essentially the entire foundation of being an athlete.
It’s all about learning how to push the envelope and recover the right way. Then you won’t be sore at yourself for working out too hard.