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My muscles are sore, what should I do? Take ibuprofen? Skip my workout? Ice bath?

If your muscles are sore the first thing I’d suggest is a celebration 😉 . In all seriousness, while you can’t judge the efficiency of your training by soreness, you’d also be pretty disappointed if you never felt any soreness whatsoever. It’s a necessary or unavoidable evil.

Why me get sore?
Second, you might be wondering why do your muscles get sore, because if you knew that then the “what to do” might flow naturally from that. The punch line from the most up to date science on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is “we don’t really know…

“We know it’s not lactic acid because those levels return to normal within minutes or hours after stop exercise, so it can’t be making you sore 8-48 hours later.”

“We know it’s not muscle damage because we can take biopsies of sore muscles and find muscle damage in some people and none in others who are just as sore, and we can find people with muscle damage who aren’t sore at all… we don’t know what it means, but we do that what it doesn’t mean.”

Ibuprofen, or another NSAID, will probably reduce your soreness, but that comfort is risky.

·     Ibuprofen, and all NSAIDs make exercise less effective.
·     Ibuprofen, and all NSAIDs impair healing and normal maintenance of our muscles and connective tissue.
·     Ibuprofen, and all NSAIDs seems to be particularly harmful for the cartilage in our jointsSuch as the meniscus in our knees.

Skip your workout?
Inactivity (a.k.a. rest) usually makes you more sore and for longer than anything else you do… I guess “don’t do” in this case.  (Aside, this is also true for injuries.  Meaning that the past 40 years of research on immobilization/rest for injuries clearly show this is bad advice.)

The research is clear “Exercise is the most effective means of alleviating pain during DOMS.”

Showing up and doing the best you can will likely make you feel better than anything else, and will keep building the habit of regular exercise and keep your body accruing the benefits of consistent exercise.

Ice bath?
Ice is numbing, but also counterproductive.  Ice is counterproductive in that it delays recovery. 

You can think of ice like the pause button on a bad movie.  Pressing pause gives some temporary relief from the movie, but it also means that it takes longer to finish.  In delaying your recovery it also makes exercise less effective, and seems to undermine the healing process if you are injured.

Heat, usually heating pad or Epsom salt bath, is at least neutral, and usually helpful for DOMS and speeding up recovery from an injury.

Well, what the hell to I do then?
·     Show up. Consistency is the most effective “treatment” for soreness.  It improves how quickly soreness goes away, and reduces the intensity of your soreness while you are sore, and reduces how much soreness you will experience.

·     Move the sore muscles.  If, for example, your legs are sore you’ll notice that when you get up from an hour in a chair they’re going to be sore!  Awful sore.  You’ll also notice that walking around for 5 min turns the volume way down.

·     Heat. Heating pads and/or Epsom salt baths are pretty great.

·     Make sure you get enough sleep, water and protein as all of these help support your recovery too.

And if you’d like one more reason to stay moving check out Strength Matters: Why Strength Training Might Be The Real Fountain of Youth

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