After a tough workout, some soreness is inevitable. (FYI, that’s a good thing! It means your muscles worked hard and are getting stronger.) However, it can be unpleasant in the days following, and you may even struggle up the stairs or have trouble sitting down because your muscles are so sore.
You already know the importance of cooling down and stretching after a sweat session to help prevent some next-day soreness. But wouldn’t it be nice if there was anything you could do before you start exercising to feel better afterward? Here’s what the experts recommend.
Before the Burn: Warm Up
You know you’re supposed to warm up every time you work out to prepare your body for the impending work it’s about to put in. Now, you can add alleviated muscle soreness to the list of reasons to get your heart rate up pre-workout. It definitely helps, says Leon Turetsky, a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist.
“Warming up is essential before doing any kind of physical activity because it increases the heart rate, loosens up stiff joints, pumps blood into the muscles, and gets you mentally ready for your physical activity,” he says. “All those things will allow you to use your muscles more efficiently, in their full range of motion with postural control. This will prevent soreness and injuries.”
Steve Washuta, a certified personal trainer, agrees that a proper warm-up can go a long way toward preventing injury and pain. “Soreness can’t always be prevented, but injuries can be,” he says. “Joint and ligament pain can be due to overuse and even not warming up properly.”
Prevent Soreness: Foam Rolling and Dynamic Stretching
Turetsky recommends starting each exercise session with some foam rolling (especially if you have any residual tightness) followed by dynamic stretches. “One of the best ways to warm up is to do foam rolling first for any tight or overactive muscles and then proceed to dynamic stretching, where you take the joints through their full range of motion,” he says.
He suggests focusing on the following areas:
- Calves: 30 seconds on each calf
- Upper back (thoracic spine): up to 60 seconds
- Hamstrings: 30 seconds on each side
Get Moving: How to Dynamic Stretch
After foam rolling, move on to dynamic stretching to get your body going. “Dynamic stretching involves moving the muscles, joints, and ligaments through their full range of motion. Think of a swimmer circling his or her arms before he gets into the water or a baseball player taking practice swings while on deck waiting to hit,” Washuta says. “The motions in which you’re going to use [your body] during your exercise should be done prior to using weights. This allows blood flow to the area and warms the muscle up. Injuries are far more prevalent when exercisers start off cold.”
He recommends the following stretches. Aim for 45-90 seconds per stretch:
- Helicopter: Rotate your body with your arms extended out laterally like helicopter blades. This helps your core and spine warm up.
- Airplane: Extend your arms out to the side laterally and dip down side to side like an airplane. This is also good for your core and back.
- Hinge: Extend your arms out to the side laterally, drop your chest down parallel to the ground while pushing your hips backward, and stand back up. This is good for the lower back and hamstrings.
- Arm Circle: Extend your arms out to the side laterally and make circles (starting small and increase as the time goes on) in both directions.
- Frankenstein Walk: Keeping your leg as straight as possible while walking forward, touch your right arm to your left ankle (kicking your left leg in the air) and then your left arm to your right ankle in a Frankenstein fashion. This is good for your hips, legs, and shoulders.
After these dynamic stretches, your body should be ready to go. You may even find yourself feeling looser and less sore the next day.
Why are you sore after working out, anyway?
Whether your workout of choice is running for miles or a fast-flow vinyasa yoga class, your muscles can feel tight and sore afterward if you’re working hard. This is especially the case any time you introduce a new challenge, such as lifting a heavier weight, running at a faster distance, or holding your plank for longer than usual. New challenges are important, though, even if you feel a bit sore after, explains Aaptiv Trainer Ceasar F. Barajas.
“Our bodies are so intelligent that they adapt to the same old movement when you’re working out regularly,” he says. “The soreness comes from introducing new movement(s) to your body or by working even harder than usual. The soreness is from microscopic tears to the muscle fibers, resulting in soreness or stiffness.”
Barajas says it’s important to continuously switch up your workouts. Your muscles will break down and grow back stronger. Think of your soreness as a point of pride that you are working hard. Just make sure to warm up before you exercise and stretch afterward.
Post-Workout: Cool Down
Still feeling tight? An extended cooldown, restorative yoga, more foam rolling, or even a massage post-exercise may help you loosen up.