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After a hard workout, some soreness is a normal part of the recovering process.

Dealing with soreness caused by your fitness regimen can be difficult – it’s inconvenient, bothersome and often painful. Luckily, the five tips found in this helpful article are a major help in handling muscle soreness that results from cardiovascular and strength training exercise.

Why do muscles get sore?

For many fitness enthusiasts, the worst soreness comes 24 to 72 hours after a workout. This is especially the case when it comes to trying new exercises or increasing the intensity of your preexisting workouts. The onset of this soreness may seem confusing, considering that the recovery process should already be underway that long after the workout is complete. However, soreness isn’t a bad sign – it means you are pushing yourself and your muscles are being worked hard.

Muscles get sore after a workout because they are strengthening and recovering. Working out causes tiny tears in your muscles, and the soreness you feel after a workout is part of the process of your muscles healing and becoming stronger. This is why experiencing pain and resistance during a tough workout is often a good sign – as long as it’s the right kind of pain!

Ideally, when working out, you are challenging yourself and progressively upping the intensity of your exercises of choice. If so, experiencing soreness is normal and natural. Muscle soreness shows up as your body accumulates to new levels of intensity. In addition, when you are first working muscles that have not been strained in a while, you’ll typically feel this soreness on a particularly high level.

Is Muscle Soreness Avoidable?

Generally speaking, muscle soreness is a good sign. When working out, it’s important to be willing to endure some discomfort as your muscles get stronger and adjust to the resistance they face. However, there are some preventative measures you can put into place to avoid excessive muscle soreness, the type of persistent aches and pains that can hinder the effectiveness of your workouts. These include post-workout stretching (we’ll discuss that later), staying hydrated (we’ll discuss that later, too), and more.

Ultimately, soreness is a natural side-effect of working out. It may not feel great, but it is an inevitable part of building up your strength and endurance. Generally speaking, soreness after workouts is not fully preventable. However, keep reading to learn some helpful ways to deal with it when it does occur.

1. Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Adding a warm-up and cool-down stage to your workouts can help prevent soreness and get you ready for your next workout more quickly. Post-workout soreness is something many fitness enthusiasts have to deal with, but a warm-up and cool-down before and after each workout can help ward off more severe, long-lasting soreness that can hinder your next workout. 

Warming up and cooling down before and after each workout allows your body to ease into and out of vigorous exercise. Before and after a cardio workout, it’s wise to ease into your exercise of choice by starting out slow and speeding up. Try one of our 1-6 minute warm-ups from 6 Minute Body for an easy and quick way to prepare your muscles for your next workout.

One of the best ways to cool down after a workout is stretching. This keeps your muscles loose and relaxed and allows for smoother recovery. Stretching can also keep your muscles from getting too stiff. Muscle stiffness can make the recovery period between workouts uncomfortable and prolong the amount of time your muscles need to loosen up before they’re ready to be worked again. Body FX offers several stretch workouts, perfect for cooling down. Try Fusion Stretch, Figure 8 Stretch & Flex, or any number of cool down videos from our 6 Minute Body or DaYo program.

 2. Stay Hydrated

Dehydration can seriously mess with your workouts and with the time between them. Staying hydrated will keep your muscles relaxed and promote a speedy recovery. You will still deal with normal soreness after a workout. Fortunately, drinking lots of water will give your muscles the hydration they need to recover and function. 

Drinking lots of water before and after workouts will boost your recovery and your overall health. Hydration is an often-overlooked aspect of physical health that deserves more attention. If you want to easily improve your health and the quality of your workouts and recovery, drink lots of water!

3. Give Muscle Groups Rest

Instead of doing a full-body workout for every gym session, try to work different muscle groups on certain days. This allows each muscle group to rest while others are worked. With low-impact cardiovascular exercise, this is not as much of a concern, and the soreness you’ll experience from low-impact exercise will be less significant. 

If you are working on building muscle and losing fat with weightlifting, dedicating a specific day to each muscle group (i.e. legs, back, arms, core) can be extremely helpful in combating soreness. After a workout, make sure to give the muscle group you worked a break, cycling through the rest of the muscle groups before you work it again. 

It’s also a good idea to take at least one full rest day from working out per week, especially when lifting heavy weights. On your off day, you can still enjoy exercise, but try and give your muscles a break from heavy lifting. Off-day exercise can be enjoying a walk, playing sports for fun, doing some yoga or stretching. 

One key ingredient in successful rest between workouts is getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep helps your muscles recover and get ready for the next time they’re needed. When you’ve just had a tiring workout, the idea of heading back to the gym in a short period of time may seem daunting. Resting in between workouts gives you time to get your energy back. Pushing yourself is great, but you don’t want to overexert and end up hurt!

4. Take a Contrast Shower

Both hot and cold water can aid in muscle recovery. When showering after a workout, you can boost your recovery by switching between cold and hot water. This type of post-workout cleanup is sometimes called a “contrast shower.”

Cold showers have often been touted as having numerous health benefits, including improving mood health and skin and hair quality. However, a steady stream of freezing cold water can be tough to endure and is sometimes downright unpleasant. Fortunately, switching between hot and cold water can have a positive effect on muscle recovery, helping your muscles to relax and loosen up.

To reap the benefits of a contrast shower, try alternating between three minutes of hot water and one minute of cold water for a few cycles of each. End your shower on cold water. Everyone’s bodies are different, and some may experience more discernible recovery-aiding benefits from taking contrast showers. Others might find that a nice, hot shower after a workout is more relaxing. 

Regardless of whether you choose a hot shower, cold shower or a little of both, showering after a workout can help your muscles recover. 

5. Get Good Post-Workout Nutrition

Diet plays a pivotal role in your pursuit of your health and fitness goals. Without nutrient-dense, recovery-promoting foods, it will be much harder to recover from workouts and maintain the physique you desire. So, avoid eating too much junk food and stick to the good stuff!

After a workout, focus on getting a good balance of carbohydrates, fat and protein. All three of these macronutrients are essential for keeping your body healthy and boosting your recovery. If you don’t have enough of one of them, you may experience more severe and unpleasant soreness during the recovery process. 

When recovering, don’t be afraid to embrace carbs – they’re your friend! After a workout, your muscles want glucose, a simple sugar that is used by your body to give you the strength and energy for your workouts. Many fitness enthusiasts will opt for a post-workout drink that includes protein and carbs to aid in recovery, like a protein shake. Alternatively, you can get these macronutrients naturally from foods.

Eating healthy food before and after your workouts is essential. None of the macronutrients are evil – each one plays an important role in muscle growth and recovery. Depending on the type of workouts you do and what your fitness goals are, you may need more or less of specific macronutrients. However, for the sake of recovery, what is most important is to stick with as much unprocessed, healthy food as possible.

When to Worry About Muscle Soreness

It’s important to remember that feeling sore after a workout is normal, and that even with careful steps taken to aid in recovery some soreness is to be expected. However, make sure that the aches and pains you are experiencing after a workout aren’t the result of an injury. Soreness caused by injuries means your body needs extra rest and you may need to visit a doctor. In most cases, though, you’re experiencing run-of-the-mill post-workout soreness.