If you’ve worked out with any type of intensity, more than likely, you’ve experienced sore muscles. This is actually a good thing, assuming it’s strictly sore muscles and not pain. Knowing the difference is extremely important. When you exercise, you push your body to the limit (at least you should be). This is what creates the perfect environment for your body to make changes. However, when the soreness you generally feel turns into pain, it might be telling you to back off as you may have injured the muscle/joint.
Sore muscles are more of a nagging or dull discomfort – not something that is painful. When you feel the soreness in your muscles, it’s from the muscle fibers tearing (microtears) during your intense workout. The good news is, this discomfort and soreness you feel give you the ability to have those torn down muscle fibers grow back bigger and stronger. What is the best way to have this happen? That’s exactly what I want to break down for you below.
Tear Those Fibers!
When you are looking to build quality lean muscle mass, you will need to work the muscles hard enough to tear down the fibers. This ultimately causes sore muscles the days following the workout. These sore muscles are due to delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). If you’ve noticed the day following a grueling workout, you might feel a little something but come day two, your sore muscles are much more pronounced.
Tearing down muscle fibers, you would think would be a bad thing. When in actuality, tearing those muscle fibers helps create hypertrophy where the muscle has the ability to grow back bigger and stronger. For bodybuilders, this is absolutely necessary to add the size they need to get on stage and compete at a high level next to the mass monsters. The constant tearing of muscle fibers and rebuilding them is a continuous weekly battle. But in the same sense, the challenge to become bigger and better fuels many individuals who step into the weight room.
How to Overcome and Prevent Sore Muscles
While it’s difficult to completely prevent muscle soreness from happening following a grueling weight training workout, there are some things you can do in order to minimize and overcome the soreness and discomfort.
Getting enough sleep each night is vital for allowing your body to recover properly and rebuild torn down muscle fibers. If you aren’t getting enough rest each night, your sore muscles will not have the ability to rebuild quickly enough before you decide to hit it again in the gym. You should strive for a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night. This might mean planning ahead or even setting the alarm for when you want to get ready for bed, so there are no excuses or nothing that comes up and keeps you awake.
Food is fuel. How do you repair broken down muscle fibers? By giving it the nutrients it needs to rebuild and come back bigger and stronger the next round. To kickstart the recovery process, follow up your workout with a recovery shake consisting of high-quality protein such as a whey protein isolate (WPI) as well as some carbohydrates to help shuttle everything out to the muscles and replenish lost glycogen and nutrients. A liquid meal following training is ideal due to the fact that it can be absorbed much quicker by the body and, in turn, get pushed out to the muscles to help start the recovery process.
Sore muscles can tend to be tight muscles. In order to loosen up the tightness, stretch out the muscle following your workout. Additionally, on subsequent days if tightness is still present in the muscle, following your cardio/weight training (of a different muscle group – do not hit the same muscle group on consecutive days), stretch out the muscle again. A mix of static stretches where you hold the stretches and dynamic stretches where movement is involved with the stretches can be used to alleviate sore muscles and tightness.
Maintaining proper hydration not only allows your body and brain to function optimally, but it also helps flush out any toxins in the body. Staying hydrated can alleviate sore muscles by decreasing the inflammation caused by the workout and, in the same breath, help prevent the muscle from cramping.
If you have access to an ice bath or can draw one yourself at home, they can work wonders. Think about professional athletes… when they finish a game or workout, they head into the locker room for an ice bath. Ice baths can significantly minimize sore muscles and delayed-onset muscle soreness. Additionally (or if you can’t make an ice bath), applying ice or an ice pack directly to the sore muscles can help decrease inflammation and can take the edge off.
Sure, massages are nice and relaxing, but more than anything, they help restore proper blood flow to your muscles. When your body restricts blood flow, it cannot shuttle nutrients out to the muscles for recovery. You can either schedule a massage with a professional, or you can purchase equipment that will allow you to pinpoint sore muscles using self-massage tools that are manual (or electronic if you wanted an upgrade). With self-massage tools, you are able to control the pressure you put on the muscle. Many tend to love foam rollers to use on the majority of their body parts.
- Cheung, K. et al. (2003). Delayed onset muscle soreness: treatment trategies and performance factors. Sports Medicine. 33(2), 145-64.