Most active people don’t mind a little muscle soreness after intense workouts —after all, sore muscles are the evidence that our bodies are working hard enough to attain new levels of fitness and help us prevent diseases like breast cancer. But after a while, it’s perfectly normal to want some relief.
Here’s the six-part formula to soothing your aching muscles.
- Stretch it out. Within a few minutes of finishing an intense workout, spend about ten minutes stretching your muscles. Lengthening warm muscles post-workout helps flush out lactic acid (the stuff that makes you sore the next day). A good stretch will also reduce stiffness and overall soreness, but make sure your muscles are warm. Stretching cold muscles can cause strains and tears.
- Go for the cold. Take advantage of your sweaty post-workout state to enjoy an ice bath (or an icepack or a few minutes of cold water in the shower). Exercise researchers have found that applying cold in the period immediately following a workout constricts blood vessels, which prevents swelling and inflammation. Plus, as your body heats up after the chill, your circulation will automatically improve.
- Apply heat. After the first day, heat can help ease muscles soreness by relaxing your muscles and stimulating blood flow to heal the small tears in muscle fibers. Even if you don’t have access to a sauna or hot tub, a hot shower, a soak in the bathtub, or a heat pack can help you achieve the desired results.
- Get a massage. What better way to relieve tension, pain, and inflammation than by getting a massage? If you’re not comfortable stripping for a professional massage (or if you can’t afford regular visits to the masseuse), enlist a friend’s help or do it yourself with a foam roller, a massage stick, or a massage chair.
- Rest. Our bodies are pretty good about telling us when we’ve overdone it. Listen to your sore muscles and slow down for a few days so you can heal. But don’t become a total couch potato: light movement (such as low-impact cardio or yoga) improves circulation and helps your body recover.
- Pop a pill. If you’re still in pain after trying everything you can think of, go ahead and take an anti-inflammatory pain killer such as ibuprofen. But if you’re still sore after several days, consult your doctor to make sure you aren’t seriously injured!