If you’ve been hitting hard in the gym, be it lifting weights, cycling through spin class, or making waves with pool laps, you probably know what it’s like to have sore muscles. Physical activity at an intensity that’s tough for you is what makes your body stronger. Muscles grow when exercise and training cause micro-tears, which may sound like an injury, but is actually what is needed for increasing strength. And while these tiny tears may be a good thing, the bad news for you comes in the way of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. DOMS is typical after a tough-for-you workout, setting in as early as six to eight hours following exercise, and reaching its peak of pain at about 48 hours.
You may know DOMS best as the duck-like walk you do after miles of running, or your inability to navigate stairs with grace following a leg day of squats, deadlifts, and lunges. Need to prop up your arms on the shower walls just to wash your hair. Yep, that’s DOMS, too. While you could wear your muscle pain like a badge of honor for a workout well done, there is often more benefit from getting some relief when the pain gets insane.
First, when your muscles are super sore, it’s harder to make progress with your fat-burning and muscle-building goals. The soreness may slow you down, lessen the weight you can lift, or take you out of the game completely. Second, DOMS tends to tax your central nervous system, making you more prone to getting sick the sorer you feel. Lastly, well, pain sucks. Why hurt when you don’t have to? When you’ve got no time for pain in your game, try the following muscle menders and movement tips to help recover from tough training.
Roll it out: Foam and trigger-point rollers are like an at-home massage that only comes at the cost of the apparatus. Foam rollers are often long and cylinder-shaped and made of high-density foam with a smooth surface. Trigger-point rollers can be made from a variety of materials, often plastic-based, and are the same cylinder shape, but have bumps and ridges for more deep-tissue kneading. Rolling out muscles pre- and post-workouts, as well as when muscles are sore can help to speed up recovery time, not to mention increase flexibility, mobility and strength.
Get on the ball: A lacrosse ball, which is denser and a bit smaller than a tennis ball, is a powerful massage tool for getting into very targeted areas. If you’ve ever had a knot-like feeling in your hamstring or traps, for example, place the ball in between the painful point and either a wall or the floor. Apply pressure by angling your body or holding a plate or dumbbell to increase the pressure. Breathe deeply (as it’s not going to feel all too pleasant at first) and gently roll the ball on the area to help break up the tightened tissue. Lacrosse balls are also great for a foot massage roll.
Soak it up: A hot bath is always a great muscle relaxer, but you can help speed up the healing process by adding an epsom salt solution to your tub (follow product specifications for amounts). While called “salt,” epsom salt is actually a mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate. Magnesium is known to naturally reduce inflammation while sulfate helps to release toxins. Both are easily absorbed through the skin, so by taking a relaxing soak, your muscles can heal faster.
Heal from within: Instead of popping a few over-the-counter pain meds to deal with DOMS, try glucosamine supplements, which have been shown to reduce pain and swelling, while also improving joint health. Glucosamine is not found in food sources, so tablet form is often the most popular intake. Talk to your doctor first to see if glucosamine is safe and right for you.
Give into resistance: If you’ve ever seen someone getting pull-up assistance from something that looks like a giant rubber band, then you’re familiar with resistance bands. And while there are exercises that they bands are great for, you can also use them to increase your mobility, which can aid in sore muscle relief. The band will help to stretch muscles in deeper ways than you could typically do on your own. For example, if you work on computers a lot, it’s likely that the muscles across your chest will be tighter. To help open these up, anchor the band on a post, and slip your arm in so that the band rests on the front of your shoulder. Step forward until you feel the resistance pulling your shoulder back, and thus stretching the chest. Lean in and play around with positioning to find the peak point of the stretch.
Get much kneaded relief: Sometimes muscles need the help of a professional to get back into working shape. Schedule a massage with a certified practitioner about every three months for a good maintenance routine. Deep tissue and sport massages are great styles to try for more intensity, but a relaxing Swedish massage can also be exactly what your body needs to decompress.
Head to bed: Muscles mend best when you get your Zzzs, so don’t skimp on sleep. Be sure to get no less than seven to eight hours a night, and more if your workouts leave you feeling fatigued. Follow a set bedtime and rise time each day to help your body fall into a routine. If you have trouble falling asleep, avoid screentime on gadgets, laptops, and TVs, so that your brain isn’t tricked into staying on.
Sore muscles are no picnic, but you don’t have to live with the pain. Get some relief with these muscle mending techniques, and you’ll be bouncing back with even better progress. What’s your favorite way to soothe sore muscles? Share with others in the comments!