You've felt it before and, if you're doing things right, you'll feel it again. Yes, of course, there's that too . . . but what we're actually referring to here is muscle soreness. You know, the byproduct of a "no pain, no gain" approach to training. Assuming it isn't actual pain, as in torn ligament/cracked bones pain, the soreness that comes after a good, hard workout is a good thing, in a sense. It's an indication that you did your part in nudging a muscle to repair itself to a stronger state than the one it was in before you trained it.
Of course, while a little soreness won't interfere with your day-to-day activities, there will be times when you find yourself hobbling about like Betty White, only without her bank account. And that's not a good thing. It's times like these when you'll want to know the best ways to manage that pain so that you can get back in action right quick, and show Betty who's boss.
What you're feeling anywhere from 12-48 hours after a workout is something specialists in such matters refer to as DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. It results from microscopic tears within muscle tissues, which is what you're creating when you workout. The pain response is the body's way of signaling to you that repair work is going on and that you'd best leave it be for a few days. Your body is smart like that, and it always lets you know when it's time to get back to it, by way of alleviating the soreness.
Interestingly, DOMS seems to be the result of eccentric muscle contractions—as in negative reps—rather than concentric ones. However, since you can't have a negative rep without a positive rep, you're going to experience DOMS if you have any intention of being active in your life.
There is no tried-and-true treatment for DOMS, but there are several steps you can take to help minimize its severity:
- Ibuprofen: Low-dose, over-the-counter painkillers—and Ibuprofen in particular, which has specifically been shown to decrease muscle soreness—will help take the edge off of severe cases of DOMS.
- Gentle Stretching: When muscles are in recovery mode they tend to tighten up, exacerbating feelings of soreness. Slow, gentle stretching of the area will relieve that tight feeling and diffuse the pain.
- Light Massage: Massaging a sore muscle can help reduce tightness while promoting blood flow, which in turn helps speed recovery, thus shortening the duration of DOMS.
- Warm Bath: As with massage, warm water will loosen up tight muscles and improve circulation. Better circulation means more oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood coming to the rescue of your aching muscles.
- Hot/Cold Treatment: Apply an ice pack for 15 minutes, followed by a heat pack for another 15, and back again. Studies have shown alternating cold with hot to be highly effective in promoting both circulation and muscle recuperation.
In short, you can't. No one has yet figured a way to circumvent DOMS, and maybe that's a good thing. After all, it is the body's signal to your brain that it needs a rest. Plus, you have to admit, there's something supremely satisfying about the feeling you get from having to walk like Betty White for a couple of days after a kick-ass leg workout.