Skip to main content
How to Relieve Sore Muscles After Working Out
The best muscle relief after tough workouts.
You think you’re in good shape and then one hike (or bike ride or tennis game or water skiing session) later, you can barely get out of bed. We’ve all been there. A workout is designed to cause microtears in your muscles (don’t worry, that’s a good thing). According to movement practitioner Pam Markee, these microtears contribute to a buildup of lactic acid and fluid in the muscle tissue, which causes PH and acid levels to change, which causes soreness.
Before a Workout
There are a few things you can do to prevent muscle soreness before it starts. Before exercising, Markee says it’s important to warm up. “Warming up muscles properly will lessen soreness,” Markee says. “Elevating the core temperature of the body creates more viscosity—or pliability—in the tissues. When the tissues are properly warmed, they will lengthen more easily and allow for full range of motion. Lengthened muscles allow more space in the joints, which allows for more shock absorption. Your joints are basically a space where shock is absorbed. When this is achieved, you reduce pain, injuries and sore muscles.”
Personal trainer and owner of Atlanta’s KoloFit Brad Kolowich Jr. agrees that warming up is crucial to preventing sore muscles. “Taking a brisk walk or slow jog for ten minutes will help increase blood flow to the working muscles,” he says. “Follow this with an additional dynamic warmup, which includes movements patterns to further increase flexibility and mobility, better preparing your body for the exercise of the day. Some great examples of dynamic exercises include leg swings, trunk rotations, arms circles and cross body arm swings.”
After a Workout
Jacuzzis, hot saunas and soaking in Epsom salt baths are ways people have tried to relieve sore muscles after a workout. Some people swear by those methods and others? Not so much. On the other end of the temperature spectrum, some folks are religious about taking cold showers and ice baths, but recent studies have found that those strategies might not be best for the body. And then there’s compression apparel, which some believe pumps and pushes lactic acid from the muscle tissues.
If any of these soreness-reducing strategies work for you, great. But experts agree that the best way to relieve sore muscles after working out is by stretching. As Markee says, “motion is lotion.” She recommends standing arm swings with a trunk rotation and varying foot positions. Kolowich also likes foam rolling to reduce muscle soreness, as well as static stretching for 30-second intervals. Make sure to target all major muscle groups including hamstrings, quads, calves, chest, triceps, shoulders and even forearms.
Two more things to keep in mind when it comes to muscle soreness: Protein and water. “Ensure that you’re getting enough protein not only throughout the course of the day, but also immediately post-workout,” says Kolowich. “I like to target about one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day...Ensuring a sufficient level of protein, vitamins and minerals will help minimize muscle soreness and ensure optimal long-term health.”
And don’t forget to drink water to relieve sore muscles after working out. Hyper-hydration with proper electrolytes will significantly reduce pain and soreness, as well as improve performance.
Sore Muscles 101
Q: How long does normal soreness last?
Markee: 2-3 days post-workout.
Q: Which muscle groups tend to get the sorest?
Kolowich: I’d argue that the leg muscles have a tendency to become the most sore, due to the size of the muscles being trained and the recovery required to heal large muscle groups like the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calf muscles.
Q: Does diet play a role in muscle soreness?
Markee: Absolutely. If you have a sugary diet, your body will go into its workout in a heightened state of inflammation, which contributes to pain and loss of elasticity. Sugar is the number one contributing factor in high blood pressure and other diseases like diabetes.
Q: What is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to sore muscles?
Kolowich: Many people make the common mistake of jumping into a fitness routine too quickly. It’s much wiser to start slowly, listen to your body and ease into an exercise routine. In doing so, you’ll be much more likely to help keep soreness at bay, as well as reduce the chance of injury. You’ll also increase the odds of maintaining a fitness routine, which can lead to long-term progress and results.
Ready to get going?