We’ve all felt the impact of a tough workout before. Whether you feel it hobbling down the stairs, crawling out of bed with achy joints, or with tightness or fatigue in any muscle group, your training is impacted by muscle soreness and exhaustion. When this soreness keeps you on the couch and out of the gym, it can start to derail the progress you’ve made. Read on for our best recovery advice.
The muscle soreness that most of us are familiar with is “delayed onset muscle soreness” (DOMS). DOMS is typically felt 12-48 hours after exercise and is more likely to occur after beginning new exercise routines or restarting exercise after an extended break. Soreness is a normal response to unfamiliar exertion, but that doesn’t mean it’s mandatory to suffer.
DOMS is a direct result of damage to the structure and integrity of your muscle fibers that occurs during exercise. You don’t feel the impact of this damage immediately because of the impact of inflammation, among other factors. Although the myth still circulates, your muscle soreness is not a result of lactic acid buildup. Lactic acid is removed from your muscles within an hour of intense exercise and is therefore not associated with the soreness you feel a day later!
Now that we know the basics of muscle soreness, the answer isn’t to avoid exercise! Read on for our advice on avoiding soreness and maximizing your post-workout recovery.
Supplements and Diet
Glutamine is probably the best-known supplement associated with recovery. Glutamine is amino acid that is highly concentrated in your skeletal muscle mass. Levels are depleted when you workout, slowing down your recovery and recuperation. Without sufficient glutamine, your muscles can also deteriorate, erasing the gains you’ve been working for. As a result, we recommend glutamine supplementation post-workout to help you get the most benefit out of your workout, maximize your gains, and restore balance to your body. As an added bonus, evidence suggests that glutamine plays an important role in regulating the immune system and in aiding the healing process.
BCAAs are essential amino acids (isoleucine, leucine, and valine) that the body can’t make on its own. As with glutamine, intense workouts deplete the body’s levels of BCAAs. Without sufficient BCAAs, the body can resort to using its own muscle tissue for fuel, reducing the gains you’ve made in the gym. Supplementing with BCAAs can help avoid this backtracking by reducing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle growth. Force Factor’s pre-workout drink, Body Rush, is an excellent source of BCAAs.
Inflammation is a normal part of the healing process, but excess inflammation is believed to inhibit your fastest recovery. Rather than taking pain medications, we recommend a diet that can help reduce excess inflammation. Antioxidants called polyphenols and flavonoids are a good place to start. These antioxidants can reduce the inflammation that causes you to feel discomfort and pain. Berries and cherry juice are great sources. Some tropical fruits, like pineapples and mangos, also contain enzymes that may help fight pain and inflammation.
The post-workout period is critical for recovery. You want to replenish your depleted glycogen stores so the body doesn’t break down your lean muscle tissue to use for energy. The sooner you feed your muscle tissue, the better and faster you’ll recover. We recommend you refuel your muscles with both protein and carbohydrates as soon as possible following a workout. Keep whey protein powder handy in your car/gym locker as a good place to start.
Smarter Workout Habits
Don’t “push through the pain.” If it’s a sharp pain you’re feeling (and not regular muscle fatigue), your body is telling you to stop what you’re doing! You may be performing a lift incorrectly or have strained the muscle. Take a break to pause and stretch the muscle and re-evaluate your form. If you’re still feeling sharp pain, stop the exercise.
Gradually increase your intensity. Performing an exercise repeatedly with increasing intensity can help your muscles adapt rapidly to reduce damage (and the related soreness) from it.
Focus on your form, especially when lifting. Your weight room has a mirror for a reason – use it! Watch yourself in the mirror to make sure that you are not moving awkwardly through an exercise. On exercises that don’t allow you to watch yourself (like the bench press), get a spotter and ask them to check out your form.
Slow steady movements are key. Are you swaying or using your momentum to move weights? This can definitely lead to soreness or, worse, injury! If the weight is too heavy to lift in a controlled way, then opt for a slightly lighter load until you can handle increasing it.
Warm Up! Take 10 minutes out of your gym time to warm up your muscles – investing 10 minutes per workout is better than sidelining yourself into month of physical therapy. If you’re doing cardio, this warm up will probably just be a slower/less intense version of the regular exercise.
Cool down! Give your muscles the chance to adapt gradually to the end of your workouts. Your cool down keeps your blood circulating more efficiently at the end of a workout so oxygen delivery continues to provide your muscles with the essentials they need to recover.
Get advice from an expert on your workout routine. Ambition is great, but if you find that your self-designed workouts always leave you sore or sidelined with injury, it may be time to put your exercise in the hands of an expert while you build up strength. Personal training sessions are a good place to get started and set yourself up for success with proper form for each exercise. They may be especially helpful for designing a workout program around an existing/past injury that you do not want to aggravate.
Scheduled Recovery & Treatment
Going to the gym every day? Your commitment is impressive, but you’re probably actually doing yourself a disservice by not taking any breaks! In order for muscles to grow, muscle fibers must be torn and repaired. Muscle repair requires time off from being broken down. This means time off from the gym! Make sure you are rotating through the muscle groups worked in your workouts and are giving yourself full days of rest each week from intense exercise. Listen to your body –common symptoms of overtraining are decreased physical performance, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, and increased minor injuries (like strains and sprains).
If you’re hoping to actively treat your soreness, choose activities that increase blood flow to your sore muscles. These may include low-intensity exercise (like a light bike ride for sore legs), massage, or a hot bath. Direct icing of a sore muscle can also help reduce inflammation and soreness if done promptly. Avoid icing a muscle for more than 15-20 minutes at a time and continually move the ice in an “ice massage” over the muscle.
Sleep! Our body takes advantage of the time we spend asleep to focus on muscle repair and growth. If you’re not giving your body enough sleep, you’re not giving your body enough time to repair itself and maximize the gains from your workouts. Shoot for 8 hours of sleep nightly. On days you are training intensely, you may need more. Try setting an alarm to go to bed in addition to one for waking up to make sure that you’re not missing out on any of this growth and recovery time!