Don't get us wrong, going hard at the gym is a good thing. But your body might need a little extra love before it feels ready to go again..
Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, understands your pain and knows what steps you should take to give your body what it needs. “Doing two or three high-intensity classes [or workouts] a week is totally doable, but you shouldn’t be pushing yourself that hard every day,” he says. “Exercise is physical stress on the body, [and] your body adapts in the time after the exercise, not during the exercise.”
When your muscles hurt, it is because you have damaged the muscle fibers -- although that isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are two different types of soreness you may experience. Metabolic soreness occurs when you have used up all the glycogen stores in your muscles. The type of soreness that makes you ache the next day is known as mechanical soreness. “That’s when the actual protein structures [in the muscle fiber] have been damaged, and the repair process is when your body is using new muscle protein to rebuild.” It is during this time that rest and recovery are particularly important.
DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, is the reason you don't feel the pain right away. The white blood cells in your body set to work repairing your taxed muscles, and in the process, they release chemicals that activate pain receptors. All of this activity peaks about 36 hours after your workout. Warming up and cooling down properly can help but sometimes, it is just impossible to avoid feeling stiff and achy. Here are some suggestions for what you should do (and a few things you should avoid) if you pushed yourself too hard in yesterday's workout.
1. Work it out, even when you feel like you can't move...
We know it sounds insane, but working out the day after can ease your muscle soreness (unless you are injured or experience sharp pains). “[Being sore] doesn’t mean take the day off, it just means do something different at a lower intensity,” says McCall. “It’s better to do a little something than not do anything." Moving your body in gentle ways, like through a series of yoga poses, will improve your circulation and help you feel better. For some great workout ideas, browse the over 80 hours of on demand workouts on SweatFlix℠!
2. ... But plan to rest the following day.
While you'll feel better being active after your workout, two days after, it is best to give your body a total break. “You do want to have a little bit of recovery and let the body heal,” says McCall. So, take it a little easier the day after, and then take the following day to relax completely.
3. Don't make a habit of relying on pain killers.
McCall recommends avoiding pain killers for a few reasons. NSAIDs, when taken on a regular basis, can be hell on your stomach and taking over the counter meds can actually “dull down the pain sensation, so then you don’t know if you’re in pain,” says McCall. “Pain is the signal that something is not working right, so if you take stuff to mask it and you try to work out through it, that’s when you can get injured.” If you need to take a painkiller, McCall says to take it before bed and not before a workout.
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4. Make sure you are not actually injured.
If you are really sore, it is best to check to make sure you didn't injure something during the course of your workout. “A little discomfort and soreness is fine, but if you wake up and you didn’t realize you did something to your ankle or your knee, that’s not something to work through,” says McCall. “If it lasts for more than two or three days it’s best to be checked by a doctor.” Two factors that can help you distinguish between injury and soreness are sharpness and localization. For example, if it hurts in only one spot, and it hurts when you put weight on it, you probably have an injury.
5. Hit the sauna for some heat therapy.
Ice baths work best to reduce inflammation immediately following your workout but the day after, a dry sauna may be just the thing. The heat increases your body temperature which increases circulation. An increase in circulation delivers more oxygen to your sore muscles and reduces some of your pain, says McCall.
6. Foam roll for relief.
Foam rolling is advisable anytime (before or after a workout, in particular) but it is especially helpful the day after a workout. “Foam rolling helps break up the tissue and improve the circulation,” says McCall. Look at it this way: foam rolling is like a DYI massage!
7. Skip the recovery protein drink...
Protein shakes and recovery snacks are great right after a workout but don't do much for you the next day. “Right after you train, your metabolism is elevated, your circulation is elevated, and your body is going to be more effective at using [recovery nutrition].” A mix of protein and carbs taken within an hour of your workout can help to ease next day soreness but won't have any impact if you are taking it the following day. Want to keep your energy levels up and your diet balanced? Try the 30 day BodyRock Meal Plan!
8. ...But you can pour yourself a glass of red wine!
Red wine won't necessarily ease your muscle pain but it can help you relax. “You wouldn’t want to go out and do shots, but anything that’s going to help you relax and wind down [will help recovery],” says McCall. If booze isn't really your thing, a nice warm bath can have the same mellowing effect.
9. Sleep it off.
Sleep is so important! “During REM cycles, that’s when your body will produce the hormones that it uses to repair the muscle tissue,” says McCall. It is important to get a good night's sleep the day of your intense workout but it can be helpful the day after too! How do you ease your muscle pain the day after a tough workout?