You are working hard, maintaining a tough training schedule and feeling good about it, but the soreness is starting to affect you. Your first thought may be to simply back off what you are doing, or quit altogether, but that’s not the answer. There are ways to minimize soreness and improve recovery so you can maintain your training regimen.
You may experience the “runner’s high” (you can insert any athletic event here) immediately after your workout, but 24 hours later (or after a night’s sleep), what you may also be experiencing is PAIN. Once you roll out of bed, your attention is drawn to muscles you didn’t even realize you had worked. You are SORE.
The science behind muscle soreness is this: inflammation due to tiny tears in muscle and connective tissues may cause Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). And although it is beneficial to muscle growth, one cannot deny the discomfort associated with it. Instead of simply saying, “I can’t do THAT again,” here are some best practices to keep your schedule (and body) on track.
Stretching for Muscle Recovery
Stretching is commonly recommended after a strenuous workout, as when your muscles are warm (even if sore), they are most capable of stretch. You already stretched a bit during your warm up, but the session AFTER your workout should target those areas you trained as well as the surrounding tissues. A foam roller/ball is effective at removing inflammation and knots in your muscles. Overdoing it can irritate your muscles just as easily as it can help, so use it in moderation.
Don’t just plop on the couch or get right back to the computer immediately after a workout. Go for a walk, do a light yoga or Pilates workout, anything to bring your body and heart rate back down slowly. Body weight training is an easy, relaxing way to continue your fitness without strain.
Take A Day Off for Muscle Recovery
It sounds contradictory, but there are times during an intense training schedule, when a day off is good…for both the body and the mind. Pushing too hard with little rest will not only increase your risk of injury, but can truly burn you out. Take this time to consider where you are in your program, goals you have already reached, and some new ones which you want to set. You can return to your training regimen rested, recovered, and ready to push yourself further!
Ice Bath/Contrast Showers for Muscle Recovery (and rejuvenate your mind!)
Experts have long touted the benefits of both ice and heat for muscle recovery, and there is room for both in your schedule. Immediately after your workout and stretching, immerse in an ice bath or cold shower (for just a minute or two). Yes, it will be tough, but the results are well worth the discomfort. Then, get into a hot shower or bath. Showers are obviously much easier to handle with temperature extremes. Alternating between hot and cold improves blood flow, aids in the inflammation process, and reduces lactate in the muscles. If any specific muscle or muscle group feels swollen, you should apply ice directly to that area for 10-15 minutes to reduce inflammation.
Hydration for Muscle Recovery
This is probably a no-brainer, as water is arguably the most vital component in your body, necessary for each cell, as it helps carry nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, regulate body temperate, and for energy production and joint lubrication. An intense workout means you can lose a significant amount of water through sweat. Even a small percentage of body weight loss from water can cause serious health problems. Many people drink only when they are thirsty, but it is important to realize that by the time you feel thirsty, you may already be dehydrated. If your workout resulted in a large amount of water loss through sweat, consider sports drinks to replace electrolytes lost. Hydration DOES help prevent muscle soreness.
Food/Nutrition for Muscle Recovery
Some people are ravenous after a workout, while others feel nauseous and are unable to eat for some time afterward. The fact is that your body just expended many calories during your workout, and needs to refuel. studies have found that supplementing with a carbohydrate + protein supplement post workout replenished glycogen stores to a greater degree compared to just carbohydrates alone. Several popular experts recommend protein shakes after an intense workout, due to the body’s increased ability to digest them quickly.
Rest/Sleep for Muscle Recovery
You probably don’t need to be reminded that you should get 8 hours of sleep each day. However, it is during sleep that your body repairs damage, which you need to keep up your training schedule. Get into a routine of tuning out any distractions for 30 minutes before you go to sleep (no tv, reading, or computer use), so you can easily fall asleep when you turn out the lights. It doesn’t take long before you notice your performance lacking if you are continually short on sleep. Just as you make it a habit to exercise daily, do the same for sleeping.
Bonuses for Muscle Recovery
Massage: Massage doesn’t have to just be a treat that you get as a birthday or anniversary gift. If you have been maintaining a tough training schedule and experiencing more soreness than usual, consider a massage. A masseuse can reach and work on those sore spots which you may struggle to reach easily yourself.
Respiratory Muscle Training: One area overlooked by many athletes is the advantage one gains by training the respiratory system. The results are far-reaching, with improved performance, increased oxygen available to working muscles, and increased endurance. The PowerLung device can help improve your breathing endurance and fitness in just 5 minutes with easy to set controls and simple breathing exercises. Perfectly suited for your rest days as well as your active warm up, the PowerLung allows you to train your respiratory system without taxing your entire body.
Plan for Muscle Recovery
As you can see, there are several tools available to help you reduce DOMS; each of them is easy to incorporate as part of your regular training regimen. Many are typical activities you would practice in your day-to-day life which simply require a bit more focus and attention. Utilizing these best practices will improve your performance, while reducing the pain and frustration experienced while pushing your body to its limit.