We’ve all experienced degrees of soreness in the days following an intense workout. Although an age-old consequence of exercise, particularly strength training, the culprit behind soreness has been long misunderstood. Originally believed to be caused by lactic acid buildup, delayed onset muscle soreness (otherwise known as DOMS) is actually caused by micro tears in the muscle. While lactic acid does accumulate in the muscle when the body is low on oxygen (such as during a grueling set), the buildup dissipates shortly after a workout. In contrast, soreness (as we know it) usually occurs one to three days after strenuous activity. Delayed onset muscle soreness (otherwise known as DOMS) is actually caused by micro tears in the muscle.
While the pain can be a deterrent, DOMS is unavoidable if you plan to stay fit. So, to aid in the quest to avoid muscle soreness, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help alleviate DOMS. Below are some preventative steps both ardent gym-goers and novices can take before, during, and after exercise.
BEFORE YOUR WORKOUT
Proper hydration and eating properly before a workout are essential steps towards muscle growth and repair, but eating the right foods may help in keeping DOMS at bay. Studies show that foods and supplements containing natural anti-inflammatory properties can be helpful in thwarting soreness. According to Harvard Health, “green vegetables, berries, whole grains, and fatty fish are thought to combat the inflammatory process.” Turmeric and saffron may also have anti-inflammatory effects, and among many other benefits, adding an Omega-3 supplement to your diet can lower inflammation.
Eat Foods with Anti-Inflammatory Properties
READ: EATING FOR SIZE
DURING YOUR WORKOUT
Incorporating both a warm-up and cool down into your routine is essential to avoiding injury and can help lower the intensity of pain felt after a particularly brutal workout. Try some cardio to warm up and prepare your body for strength training, and set aside time between sets to cool down with a series of stretches aimed at the respective body part. If you are planning to work out for an hour or more, drink plenty of water DURING the workout. When working new muscles, be sure to adapt stretching sequences accordingly. Keep workouts within a comfortable level of intensity. Better to build slowly and allow your muscles to adapt than to overdo it and suffer injury.
Warm Up with Cardio
Cool Down/Stretch After Each Set
Monitor Level of Intensity
LOU SAYS: "I like to do 5-10 minutes of cardio – treadmill or bike – before I lift in order to get my body warmed up. Then, I like to stretch the individual body part after I complete a set with a quick, informal stretch against a wall or machine."
AFTER YOUR WORKOUT
Far from the inflated prices and gratuitous fluff of the typical spa massage, a legitimate sports massage can help work out serious
tension and ease the pain of DOMS. Although often associated with those of a certain age, Epsom salt baths can also be helpful in reducing soreness and eliminating toxins from the body. A rub down and a soak combined are sure to aid in inducing a good night’s sleep, another essential ingredient in the prevention of DOMS. And don't forget to fit in a meal of protein and complex carbs right after your workout - feeding torn muscles helps minimize the pain.
In the end, beating DOMS boils down to maintaining a nutrient-rich diet, a balanced exercise routine, and making time for plenty of rest. Regular, consistent exercise that uses a variety of muscle groups is the best bet, but when you need to increase intensity, a healthy dose of tenacity can help in pushing through the post-workout pain. While soreness can’t necessarily be avoided entirely, the best, and perhaps most obvious way to prevent pain from increasing is to give your body a break. And, if all else fails, there’s always ibuprofen and LOTS of water.
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