Updated: May 23
he onset of muscle tension can be, for lack of a better word, a real pain!
Muscular tension can range from mild to moderate and include symptoms such as tenderness, pain and inflammation.
Symptoms typically occur 24 to 48h hours post physical activity, most commonly when new fitness activities are introduced or you increase challenge in your fitness routine. Individuals just beginning a fitness program, or coming back after a long hiatus are also more susceptible to experiencing the muscle soreness while their body works to adapt to new physical challenges and changes.
But have no fear! I have 9 simple tips to help you reduce muscle tension - starting today - including some effective ways to manage muscle soreness when it happens
Tip 1: Start Smart.
Don’t skimp on the warm up. Warm up activities such as a low to moderate paced walk, ride on the elliptical or recumbent bike, and even a short rowing session are a great way to warm up the muscles and get the body loose and ready to move. Working out at home or outside of conventional cardio equipment? Try marching in place, jumping jacks, jump rope, jog in place, or a few jump squats followed by some light stretching movements to get you ready to go!
Tip 2: Fill the Tank.
Your body needs energy to workout. A healthy balance of complex carbs and lean proteins pre workout (ideally 1-2 hours before to avoid digestive upset) can help not only enhance your athletic performance, but also enable you to workout longer while helping you avoid the dreaded post workout crash by supplying the body with the fuel it needs to perform. Try a mix of dried fruit and unsalted nuts, apple slices with natural peanut butter, oatmeal with fresh fruit, a fruit and veggie smoothie, or a half a slice of whole wheat bread with almond butter. The goal is to prep the body with clean moderate to slow digesting carbs as these are the body’s primary fuel source for energy.
Tip 3: Stretch It Out.
You had a great workout and are feeling on top of the world….you don’t need to waste your time stretching, right? Wrong. Now is prime time to get in a good stretching circuit while the muscles are warm and the body is feeling loose and pliable for movement. Even just picking 3 to 4 stretches that target the main muscle groups can be hugely beneficial in alleviating muscle tension later. Some of my favorites are the spinal twist, the forward bend, pigeon, standing side bend, and the runner’s lunge. Hold each pose up to 1 minute for optimal benefit.
Tip 4: Get Moving.
When muscle soreness does hit you really just want to lay on the couch and use this as an opportunity to catch up with Netflix, but don’t! Movement encourages healthy blood flow, circulation, and oxygen consumption - all of which are key to supporting muscle repair and recovery. Activities such as a low to moderate paced walk, light yoga (think Hatha, Viniyoga, and Restorative practices), or a series of light stretching exercises are all great low impact ways to engage the muscles gently.
Tip 5: Ice Ice Baby
For areas especially tender to the touch or to reduce inflammation apply ice for 10-15min at a time. I prefer using gel ice wraps because I can wrap them around large areas, such as the legs, shoulders, or low back. Many of the gel varieties work as both as ice packs (by placing them in the freezer) or moist heat (by heating them for a minute or so in the microwave), making them a great fitness resource whether your goal is to reduce inflammation or increase circulation.
Tip 6: Soak It Up.
Enjoy the soothing effects of an epsom salt bath. These little salts work naturally with the body to ease pain and muscle cramps, reduce bruising, and help rid the body of toxins, not too mention the mind/body/spirit benefits of soaking away the day. Try adding a few drops of lavender essential oil to further boost the holistic healing benefits.
Tip 7: Roll Away.
Foam rollers, massage sticks, even a tennis ball can be great for reducing muscle tension by helping promote myofascial release. Use against common trigger points (such as the IT-band, glutes, quads, hamstrings and shoulders) to alleviate knots and improve circulation.
Tip 8: Re-plenish and re-fuel.
What you consume post workout can influence how well you recover. Consuming a ratio of lean protein, healthy fats and slow to moderate digesting carbs approximately 30-60min after your workout will enable the body to use that caloric energy most efficiently, replenishing key stores for muscle recovery and repair. Combinations such as a sliced banana with one Tablespoon of natural nut butter or a banana blended with some almond milk and a scoop of protein powder can offer quick digestible carbs, protein, healthy fats, as well as deliver potassium, calcium and other anti-inflammatory properties, which will help to balance electrolytes, regulate healthy blood sugars, restore energy AND reduce the onset of muscle soreness. It is no wonder why so many fitness enthusiasts reach for bananas, a banana a day helps to keep the muscle cramps away!
Tip 9: Take A Break.
And finally, if you are noticing more and more muscle soreness, a spike in overuse injuries, fatigue during workouts occurring more quickly, mood imbalances, disrupted sleep and/or sudden appetite changes it may be time for a break. While fitness does a body good (as well as mind and spirit) too much of a good thing is still too much. The body needs time to recover, replenish and repair between intense workout sessions, which is what those active rest days were created for. So be sure and take that day off in between strength training activities, limit HIIT sessions to 2x a week, and listen to your body. If you are working out 6 or 7 days a week at the same level of intensity each time, you may be pushing your body outside of its limits, headed for burnout or worse, injury. Rest days are an important part of a well rounded fitness routine and will keep you moving and feeling your best.
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