fitness

Sore for days after a workout? Here's how to avoid that

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Last week, I did a new workout at a new gym. And while it was challenging, it wasn’t completely awful.

“You’re going to be sore tomorrow,” my trainer promised me as I left. And I chuckled and headed off to the shops, thinking nothing more of it.

The next day was nothing short of torture. Everything hurt. Simple tasks, such as going to the loo, became monolithic events that were almost impossible – largely due to the fact that my leg muscles had given up on life completely. At one point, I face-planted into the bitumen while simply trying to walk down the street.

It was a bad day, followed by a slightly less bad day, during which I could move my legs, but could barely move my upper body.

It’s crazy how sore we can get after a tough workout. And I’ve never known exactly what should be done to try and avoid hobbling around for days after a particularly grueling run/Crossfit session/hot yoga class. Some people suggest more protein. Others say the secret is all in stretching.

I turned to the experts for their opinions on what makes us sore and what we can do to prevent it. I chatted to:

Katie Williams, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Exercise & Sports Science Australia; and Vix Erber (also known as Bondi Vixen), a Personal Trainer who was recently named one of the top 5 PT’s in Australia by Ultra Fitness Magazine.

Here’s what they had to tell me.

Why do we feel sore after a workout?


VIX SAYS: 

"Rolling out of bed with throbbing muscles proves yesterday’s workout was a challenge. Congrats!

Post-workout pain is called Exercise Induced Muscle Damage (EIMD). Sounds scary I know! That means you can thank the extra kilometres for that dead-leg feeling, or the extra kilos on the bench press for a sore chest.

When the pain limits strength (can’t stand!) or range of motion (can’t walk!), it’s best to take a hint from your body and give yourself a day or two off."

KATIE SAYS:

"It is normal to have some degree of soreness following exercise, particularly if you have had a break from exercise, change your exercise routine or dramatically increase your workout duration or intensity. The discomfort, tightness and pain you feel is thought to be the result of microscopic tearing of muscle fibres and associated swelling. However, your body has a great ability of repairing these muscle fibres – meaning you will get fitter and stronger over time.

Eccentric muscle contractions, where muscles need to forcefully contract during its lengthening phase, is strongly linked with muscle soreness. These eccentric movements may include walking/running down stairs, running or lunging down a hill and lowering weights (think during a bicep curl).

Delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) usually peaks 2-3 days after exercise. Generally, DOMS is a good thing as it is a sign that your body is adapting to exercise, and will lead to greater endurance, muscular strength and hypertrophy (tone)."

What can people do before a workout to minimise their chances of feeling sore the next day?

VIX SAYS:

"Remember to WARM UP before every session. A general warm-up focusing on the body parts you are training may prepare muscles for harder work and slightly lessen the post-workout ouch!

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So if you are going for a run, warm up with some power walking then stretch those working muscles with some dynamic stretches. If you are doing a weights circuit in the gym then I suggest warming up by doing an extra set of each exercise to start with and only use half the weight you would normally lift."

KATIE SAYS:

"Choose what suits you best and try to prevent excessive DOMS in the first place. For example, in many cases people will experience extreme soreness because they have exercised ‘too hard, too soon’, however it is best to gradually progress your exercise routine over a period of time. A warm-up is also always an important thing to do to reduce DOMS."

What about after the workout?

VIX SAYS:

"I would suggest reducing your training intensity and duration with light exercise on your sore muscles for a few days. Stick to low-impact exercises like walking, easy cycling, or swimming. Be warned though, any pain-relief provided by the light exercise will likely be short-lived. And if the muscle hurts to the touch or is seriously limiting mobility, you may be a victim of overtraining. In this case, the safest option is to stay out of the gym for a bit longer.

If you are an exercise fanatic and staying out of the gym is not an option, then try working different muscles than yesterday. A varied fitness routine helps to ensure all muscle groups get equal attention and equal rest.

To minimise DOMS, try upping intensity (whether distance, speed, or resistance) gradually over several weeks."

KATIE SAYS:

"Some techniques thought to reduce and manage DOMS include active recovery after exercise, gentle stretching, and only gradually incorporating eccentric movements into your exercise routine. Some athletes even try an ice bath (or contrast warm/cold water in the shower) to help with soreness.

Most importantly, make sure you listen to your body and avoid any vigorous activity or exercise that increases pain whilst you have DOMS. An Exercise Scientist or Accredited Exercise Physiologist can provide you with an exercise program specifically tailored to your individual ability, goals and health status, helping you avoid excessive DOMS and injury."

So, in summary:

1. Gradually increase exercise intensity as you get fitter, rather than launching into super full-on workouts;

2. Always warm up, incorporating some stretches into your warm-ups and cool-downs;

3. If you're super-sore after a big workout, stay out of the gym for a few days, or stick to low-impact exercises that won't put your already-sore muscles through any more pain.

How do you avoid being super-sore after a workout?

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