For beginners and elite athletes alike, muscle soreness is a common occurrence after physical activity. Pain can be frustrating, problematic, and even debilitating to one’s performance.

However, you can integrate some techniques and practices into your physical preparation to help prevent the instance of severity.

For you to learn how to avoid muscle soreness after workout, it is vital to understand how and why it occurs after physical activity.

Soreness comes with the territory

During weightlifting, running, or even yoga, there is a typical result of muscle soreness following activity.

The severity and duration of muscle soreness depends on the elasticity of the muscle, stresses or loads placed on the muscle and recovery interventions following activity.

Throughout exercise, concentric (shortening) contractions help activate muscle movements while eccentric (lengthening) contractions slow or halt body movements.

This constant shortening/lengthening of muscles is often the root cause of muscle stiffness and soreness following exercise.

As muscles shorten and lengthen during exercise, muscle fibers within the muscle will adapt to the forces imposed on them.

While these fibers change to these forces, micro-tears occur within the tissues of the muscle. These tears manifest into muscle soreness, which is often felt many hours after physical activity.

The severity and duration of this muscle soreness usually depends on the type of physical activity you are performing.

Consistency is key

For novice or elite athletes, the intensity, duration, and fitness level of the individual all play a factor in the effects of muscle soreness following physical activity.

In terms of physical activity, consistency is key to helping limit muscle soreness following exercise.

For individuals that keep a routine fitness plan and a consistent time frame for exercise, they will likely have a mild case of muscle soreness several hours after completing the exercise.

However, individuals who are new to workout programs (resistance training, plyometrics, cardio, etc.) have a higher chance for moderate to severe muscle soreness 24 hours after activity, lasting up to 48 hours following.

This delayed reaction is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS can lead to a limited range of motion to the joint, reduced strength, and swelling in some cases.

While DOMS is a common occurrence following physical activity, it should not last longer than 48 hours following activity.

If your muscle soreness, aches, and stiffness lasts longer than 48 hours following physical activity, you should be concerned.

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Not all symptoms are created equal

While muscle soreness is common after physical activity, it is essential to recognize what kind of symptoms can be detrimental to performance and recovery.

During intense physical activity, especially outdoor activities in extreme heat, muscle tissue fibers can become over fatigued and become damaged or begin to break down.

Once the fibers break down, the fragments of tissue are dispersed through the bloodstream and removed from the body.

This breakdown of fibers causes protein (myoglobin) released into the bloodstream, which can cause kidney damage. This process is called rhabdomyolysis.

Though muscle soreness is a symptom of rhabdomyolysis, more severe symptoms include:

  • Muscle pain, often extremely painful aching and throbbing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle swelling or inflammation
  • Dark urine
  • General exhaustion or fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness, light-headed, or feeling faint
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Nausea or vomiting

Because of the severity of rhabdomyolysis, it is crucial for individuals presenting with any of these symptoms to refer themselves to their primary care physician for further evaluation.

With muscle soreness being a typical instance associated with physical activity, it is imperative to understand the preventative measures that you can take to lessen the severity and duration of this soreness.

Get ahead before you fall behind

Before any exercise session, whatever it may be, there needs to be a proper warm-up preceding activity, as well as an adequate recovery session following activity.

As a Corrective Exercise Specialist, it is important to use inhibitory techniques on problematic muscle groups before any physical activities.

You use inhibitory techniques to relieve tension or decrease overactivity within muscle fibers.

Often this is done through self-myofascial release (SMR).

These techniques often involve foam rollers, hand rollers, tennis balls, etc.

Benefits of self-myofascial release include:

  • Correction of muscle imbalances
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Improved joint range of motion
  • Improved neuromuscular productivity
  • Reduced soreness and improved tissue recovery
  • Suppression/reduction of trigger point sensitivity and pain
  • Decrease the overall effects of stress on the human movement system

Stay ready, don’t get ready

After inhibiting overactive muscle fibers, it is essential to stretch muscles thoroughly before and after physical activity properly.

Static and dynamic stretching are both imperative for a proper stretch routine.

Dynamic stretching involves active movements before physical activity to warm up muscles properly.

These movements include:

  • Side Shuffles
  • Straight Leg Kicks
  • Carioca
  • Backpedal Jog

Primarily, you use these movements to get moving without putting severe stress or loads onto joints and muscles before physical activity.

Static stretching takes place after a workout, involving stretches that you hold for a short period.

These stretches include:

  • Supine Hamstring Stretch
  • Butterfly Stretch
  • Standing Quadricep Stretch
  • Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

These stretches can be done 2-3 times for 20-30 seconds each. It is vital, especially with sore muscles, to not stretch beyond the ability of the individual.

A good rule of thumb is to stretch just to the point of discomfort, then back off a bit. This rule ensures the individual does not overexert themselves and maintains flexibility without straining the muscle.

After inhibiting and stretching muscles, post-workout recovery is significant in getting ahead of muscle soreness to lessen its severity.

Your recovery begins when activity has ended

As your muscles were “warmed up” before and during physical activity, you should not only “cool” muscles but try to relax them as well.

Recovery methods to reduce muscle soreness post-workout include:

  • Active recovery- walking, jogging, swimming, yoga, myofascial release following high-intensity activity.
  • Massage- 20-30min duration immediately after or up to 2 hours following activity
  • Cold therapy-ice packs, ice bath
  • Compression garments- compression sleeves, ace wraps, compression modalities

While some of these techniques may be hard to come by (especially due to COVID-19), it is important to utilize techniques that are more available to a given individual.

Give your muscles time to breathe

You have properly felt how your muscles can tighten after an intense workout session. If you are not accustomed to providing your muscles with a sufficient amount of oxygen, your muscles will produce lactic acid as a byproduct of anaerobic respiration. Anaerobic respiration happens when your muscles are trying to break down the glucose in your body with no oxygen present.

There are ways you can overcome muscle soreness due to muscle fatigue. Training your breathing using a breathing trainer can improve your body's ability to get oxygen from the lungs to the locomotor muscles. The breathing trainer allows you to track your process through real-time data on your smartphone. Visit Airofit.com to begin your breathing journey!

Be proactive so you can stay active!

Though muscle soreness is often a component of physical activity, it does not have to become a debilitating and challenging hurdle to jump after activity has completed.

While practicing proper prevention and recovery techniques, individuals can diminish the severity of muscle soreness to maintain consistent and optimal performance.