Pain is your body’s alarm system. Ignoring it never feels right. How do you know if you’re doing damage to your muscles or if the pain just means you’re pushing yourself? Here are some pointers for understanding the burns, contractions and soreness of post-workout muscles.
It feels like a sharp bolt of pain
If you feel an immobilizing pain when you move a muscle in a certain way or constantly, whether it’s right after you work out or a few days later, this isn’t a good sign. When you feel the pain, take all the weight off the muscle, and apply an ice pack. Wrap the muscle in a tenser bandage if you have one on hand to keep it compressed and to give the muscle some extra support. Don’t massage the area, as doing so might disrupt the muscle’s healing, and don’t work out or put any stress on the muscle until you see a doctor and get further instructions.
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It feels like a sudden contraction of a specific muscle
Muscle cramps happen when muscles involuntarily contract and can’t relax. The contractions can be pretty intense and even cause a visible hardening or protrusion of the muscle. Aside from the few minutes of pain, such contractions are harmless, and they do pass. Sometimes a lack of hydration can trigger them; other times they come about simply from the muscle resting in an awkward position for too long. Take a break from your workout, and try stretching or massaging the muscle in a way that feels good. Or try a yoga technique and “breathe into” the muscle as you visualize your breath.
It feels like a slow burn near the end of your workout
This is the “hurts-so-good” pain caused by lactic acid buildup in the muscles. The body produces lactic acid when it breaks down carbohydrates for energy. It means your muscles are building up and getting denser, which happens when you push yourself in your workouts. You might experience some muscle fatigue within a few hours or the next day as they recuperate.
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It feels like a heavy soreness one to two days after your workout
When hauling groceries out of your car or taking the stairs feels like it might be your undoing, that’s when you know you had a super-intense workout. This is DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), and it’s a good sign. It means your muscles are recuperating from a killer workout, and they’re getting stronger. Massage your muscles, take a hot bath to relieve the ache, and wait until the soreness is gone before getting back to the gym to prevent more pain.
Pre-workout tips to prevent muscle pain
Fuel up before and after your workout. Protein gives our bodies energy in the long term; carbs give it energy in the short term. The morning of a workout day, have a protein-rich breakfast. Before your workout, have a serving of grains for a snack. After your workout, revive yourself with a hit of protein, like Greek yogourt or chocolate milk, which has protein and carbs. The post-workout snack prevents you from “hitting a wall” and keeps uncontrollable hunger at bay. Staying hydrated is equally important.
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Warm up and stretch. Don’t just dive right into your workout with a cold body. Warm up your body temperature before you work out, and then stretch out your muscles.
There’s no need to go from zero to hero in a workout right off the bat. Increase your resistance gradually to give your body time to adapt.
More on muscle pain
To move of not to move: Exercising with pain
Tips for dealing with pain
5 Yoga poses for back pain
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