Here are the best ways to treat sore muscles after an intense workout

If you don’t know what delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) means, you’ll know what it feels like. It usually manifests itself the night after a particularly intense workout that you’ve decided to try for the first time, and causes inexplicable grunting with every step you take. Simply put, it’s the pain and stiffness in the muscles following a heavy workload due to the breakdown in muscle tissue. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s a real hindrance when you’re trying to keep up with a regular training regime, which is why we’ve sussed out some ways in which you can kill the pain and not your motivation.

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The inflammatory response peaks around 24 to 48 hours after leaving the gym, and it’s a sign that you’ve engaged in a higher level of intensity and novel movements — both highly beneficial to your training program. After all, muscle growth is achieved via the fusing of damaged muscle fibres, and pushing your body to its limits can accelerate that process by giving them something to repair. These microscopic tears in your muscles are the same ones that will leave you limping the next day. 

Unless you’re into the whole “no pain no gain” motto even after you’ve left the gym, we can’t imagine you’ll enjoy that nagging ache, so here are some ways you can alleviate the pain — even for a bit. 

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Tart cherries

The fleshy ruby-red fruits are not only vitamin powerhouses, they also make that post HIIT workout ache a bit more bearable thanks to anthocyanin, a colourful antioxidant compound that decreases excess inflammation within the body. A few servings per week should suffice, although you’ll want to switch to a more frequent plan if you’re training for a marathon or sports tournament.

Epsom salts

Magnesium — the primary component of Epsom salt — is a mineral that the body requires to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, amongst many other things. Unlike other minerals, it can be absorbed through the skin as you soak in a warm bath, and is documented to relax muscles by flushing lactic acid buildup.

Pineapples

Like tart cherries, pineapples also have anti-inflammatory properties thanks to bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme that also reduces joint pain, helps with digestion, and reduces allergies. 

Caffeine

Here’s a reason to raise another cup of your favourite brew. Besides boosting your performance drastically, the analgesic properties in caffeine also help reduce muscle soreness and fatigue after a strenuous workout. Pop by your local cafe for two cups of coffee (the recommended dosage) about an hour before a particularly gruelling workout for best effects. 

Foam rolling

Not everyone has the good fortune of having a sports therapist at hand, so a foam roller would be the next best thing. The nondescript rubber tubes provide effective myofascial release by relieving tension in the muscles’ connective tissue, while reducing the onset of muscle soreness. Other benefits include stretching out your muscles for better performance in subsequent workouts. To make it count, incorporate foam rolling into your warm up, cool down and off-day recovery process.

(Photo: Kayla Itsines’ Instagram)

Even more exercise

This sounds like the least doable option on the list, but a 20-minute bout of low or moderate-intensity workout can help increase blood flow, which naturally hurries the inflammatory process along. Scheduling low-intensity workouts throughout the week that focus on recovery (such as yoga or pilates) are good enough for keeping DOMS at bay.

Dynamic compression

Otherwise known as intermittent pneumatic compression, dynamic compression only gained momentum of late after the introduction of the Normatec Dynamic Compression system. A cross between a massage and a compression sock, the legging-like device produces a pulsing motion that mimics the muscle pump of the arms or legs, encouraging blood flow and the movement of fluid and metabolites around and out of the limbs. The treatment also helps with water retention and improves blood circulation. Today, the technology is used by Tour de France cyclists, NBA players, and the US Navy SEALS.