It’s the start of a new year, which often means a new workout plan. And for many, that’s going to mean some new aches and pains. You feel great after you work out, riding the post-exercise endorphin high—until sore muscles set in a few hours or days later. Sore muscles are a very common side effect of working out, but that doesn’t make them any more pleasant to deal with. If you’re wondering how to relieve sore muscles, here are seven ways to do just that:
- Warm up properly.
What you do before your workout is actually the most important part of exercising. Warming up before you jump on the fitness equipment will help prevent injuries and muscle soreness from happening. Warming up gets your blood flowing, prepares your heart and lungs for activity and makes your muscles limber. Think of your body like a rubber band: If you put it in the freezer and then try to stretch it, the band is going to crack and snap. But if you warm it up in your hands first, the band is going to stretch easily.
- Boost your circulation.
You’ve probably seen athletes wear colorful calf sleeves before and during games. These sleeves are made of compression fabric specially designed to promote circulation. The compression puts pressure on your lower body, which encourages blood to keep flowing instead of pooling in your lower body. Not only does this increase your circulation, it also reduces swelling, which helps relieve sore muscles after a workout. While compression socks and sleeves for the calves are the most popular option, compression arm sleeves are also available for those who struggle with upper body soreness as well.
- Stay hydrated.
Your body loses fluid through sweat while you work out. While you should definitely keep hydrating during your workout, if you slam a bunch of water at once, most of it’s going to pass straight through your system instead of getting absorbed. Instead, sip on water throughout the day and before, during and after exercising. This makes sure that your blood has enough water in it to keep flowing quickly, replenishing your muscles with nutrients. Staying hydrated also keeps your joints lubricated, improving your range of motion.
- Use hot and cold therapy.
While the terms sound fancy, if you’ve ever put a bag of frozen peas on a sprained ankle, you’ve actually used hot and cold therapy. Right after your workout, you can treat any inflamed areas with an ice pack, or hop into an entire ice bath to head off swelling and slow your blood flow back down. As the warmth from your workout dissipates and your blood vessels contract, your body may become sore and stiff, especially the day after your workout. You can counteract this by taking a warm shower for all-over relief, or targeting especially sore muscles with a hot pack or rice bag.
- Get moving.
The last thing you want to do when you’re super sore from a workout is move your stiff muscles—but that’s one of the most effective cures. Physical movement, even if it’s just stretching or going for a walk, will get your heart pumping and dilate your blood vessels. This speeds up circulation and ensures that oxygen and other nutrients are being delivered to your muscles more quickly, speeding their recovery. The movement will also warm up your muscles, making it easier to move (think of the rubber band analogy from earlier).
- Consider a massage.
If stretching or walking isn’t enough, more targeted muscle stimulation might be in order. If you’re only moderately sore, scheduling a massage with a trained therapist will physically knead your muscles, warming them up and increasing circulation. If the thought of getting a massage makes your muscles want to scream, you can give yourself one at home, or use workout accessories like a foam roller for a little extra oomph.
- Rest and recover.
If you’re perpetually sore, you might be overtraining. Try to schedule at least one and maybe two days a week where you do no physical activity except some light stretching. If you’re not doing it already, you should also explore cross training, or incorporating different types of physical activity into your workout schedule. Cross training ensures that you’re working all different parts of your body without overtaxing any of them. For example, you might lift weights with your upper body one day and then run the next. This lets your various muscles groups trade off, so one recovers while you work the other.