For a lot of people everywhere around the world, New Year resolutions include a fitter and healthier body. You might join the gym with enthusiasm and determination or pick up your training from where you left off before the holidays, but chances are high that after a few days of intense workouts you can’t even move normally without experiencing a lot of pain. Soreness and muscle cramps are the two dreaded sisters of workouts that can take away a lot of your motivation to keep going to the gym. Vigorous physical movement or exercise leads to small tears in your muscle fibers, which stimulates muscle growth and development in turn. However, if you don’t pay attention to your post-workout soreness or treat your cramps properly, it will increase the chances of muscle injuries, lower your capacity to absorb shock and limit your range of motion.
So here are 30 great techniques to ease your cramps and aches and make sure your body is prepared for the next workout:
1. Rest after intensive workouts or when you experience soreness.
This is a basic yet oft-ignored step of any fitness routine. Rest and recovery are as important for muscle development as eating and exercising correctly. Our body requires some time to adapt to intensive workouts, eliminate the lactic acid and repair our damaged muscles. Pushing yourself to work out in spite of heavy soreness, cramps or pain can have a detrimental effect on your body. It will prolong your recovery time as well as increase the risk of injuries.
2. Try active recovery or some light activity after intensive workout days.
You can also try to incorporate some light exercises or activity instead of total rest after intense training. Light exercises can also help ease cramps or alleviate soreness by mildly working the sore muscles and promoting blood circulation. That said, there are benefits to a recovery workout in lieu of total rest. Active recovery may include swimming, cardio exercises, jogging, or bodyweight exercises.
3. Get regular massages.
Massages can help greatly in muscle recovery and alleviate soreness and cramps. You can get deep tissue massages from a professional once a week or twice a month if you are undergoing intensive training. Alternatively, you can massage the sore muscles with even pressure for up to twenty minutes after an energetic workout. The Active Release Technique (ART) massage therapy especially works well and brings down muscle soreness fast. You can even use an electric handheld massager or ask your family member or friend to help out.
4. Try acupuncture if you need to relieve pain quickly.
Acupuncture is an ancient technique that can yield impressive results if administered correctly by an acupuncturist. Acupuncture helps to relieve muscle soreness and pain by sensitizing our pain receptors and moving energy the right way to release the muscle tension. If you are suffering from chronic muscle pain or cramps due to workout injuries or intensive training, you will need a number of appointments for effective treatment.
5. Stretch your muscles if you are experiencing cramps and before every workout.
Certain controlled stretches can help to ease muscle cramps temporarily and they are a good option for immediate treatment. You should move and stretch the muscles slowly and use the correct technique and direction for maximum benefits. Regular stretching, especially before workouts, not only helps with flexibility and range of motion but can also lengthen muscle fibers. They can lower the incidence of muscle cramps caused by exercise.
6. Use a foam roller or ball prior to and following your workouts.
Using a foam roller or ball can be as effective as deep tissue massages to relieve soreness and relax muscles. Muscle cramps often occur when the muscles stiffen or tighten up. Rolling on a ball or foam roller will ease out your tightness and break up the adhesions and knots. It can particularly help relax the hip flexors and ease stiffness in the calves, quads, and hamstrings. Since massaging and rolling help promote fluid balance, they can increase flexibility and mobility.
7. Use a topical pain-relief ointment to ease soreness.
Topical pain ointments that contain menthol, methyl salicylate and capsaicin can also help reduce lactic acid buildup. These ointments, when applied on the sore areas, not only create a cooling and tingling sensation but also promote blood flow. They are great for quick relief as well but should be followed up by proper treatment and care.
8. Apply ice packs or cold compress to the sore area.
Ice compresses can help against muscle inflammation and minimize soreness. You should ideally start applying ice packs for two days after intensive training to reduce muscle pain.
9. Try out cupping therapy or myofascial decompression to relieve soreness.
This is another practice based on alternative medicine in which a local suction is created on your skin. People go for cupping to reduce inflammation and muscle soreness, promote blood flow and heal imbalances in the body.
10. Incorporate curcumin in your diet or take curcumin supplements.
Curcumin has been shown by research to have potent anti-inflammatory properties that can work like NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) without affecting our body’s healing ability after we’re hit by muscle soreness. In case you didn’t know, taking NSAIDs to alleviate exercise-induced pain actually increases healing time. One of the active components of turmeric is curcumin, so you can try and include a healthy amount of turmeric in your daily diet. Alternatively, you can take curcumin supplements with 95% curcumin for pain relief.
11. Use anti-inflammatory medications after consulting your doctor.
In case of serious pain or repeated cramps, you may have to resort to anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce soreness from muscle spasms. But, it’s best to not make them your first option every time you suffer from cramps or soreness and to ask your doctor before using them. They might not be suitable for certain kinds of cramps or spasms or be incompatible if you have an underlying medical condition.
12. Consume Branch Chain Amino Acids to avoid delayed onset muscle soreness.
BCAAs are a well-known type of supplements that are taken for bodybuilding. They help the body by increasing the synthesis of protein and also minimize muscle damage or injury by protecting the integrity of the muscle fibres. You can use BCAAs like L-glutamine before and after workouts to encourage fast muscle recovery and prevent muscle soreness or spasms. You should consult your dietician or trainer before starting on any supplement.
13. Apply heat to the sore muscles or take a hot bath.
Heat works in a similar way to stretching and massages. It helps reduce muscle soreness by promoting blood circulation to the sore area and minimizing muscle stiffness. It can also relieve muscle pain temporarily and help speed up recovery. You can either put a hot pad on the sore area or take soak yourself in a hot bath for fifteen to thirty minutes. Alternating hot and cold treatments may also be effective in alleviating pain and reducing inflammation.
14. Massage magnesium oil on your sore muscles.
Magnesium oil is known for its muscle-relaxing and pain-relieving properties. It can be effective in treating muscle aches, spasms, soreness, and pains. You can massage the oil to the affected muscle groups after an intense workout to avoid soreness, loosen stiffness and alleviate pain. Let the oil sit on your skin for around twenty minutes and then take a hot bath to soothe your muscles.
15. Slow down and lessen your workout intensity when you feel your muscles are overexerting.
Contrary to many sayings, pushing yourself through a grueling workout in spite of getting warning signals from your body may not be a good idea. It’s important to know your body and its limits well before you plunge into high-intensity workouts or exercises. If you sense your muscles stiffening or burning, you should slow down and lower the intensity of your workout. Adjust your exercises according to your body‘s response to them.
16. Take Epsom salt baths to relax your muscles.
Epsom salts again help with muscle restoration and relaxation as they contain magnesium which can be absorbed by the skin naturally. Magnesium is, in fact, a primary constituent of Epsom salts. A warm Epsom salt bath can help loosen and relax the sore muscles, promote healthy blood flow, and reduce body inflammation. You can also apply it specifically to the affected areas along with warm compress.
17. Alternate muscle groups and change positions to prevent muscle cramps and injuries.
In order to ensure that your muscles get enough recovery time, you can alternate exercises that target specific muscle groups. If you constantly follow the same workout regime, you will not only overexert the same muscles but also suffer from greater soreness and pain when you incorporate new exercises. No particular formula or routine fits everyone, so you need to develop a well-rounded regimen of your own with your trainer.
18. Drink baking soda mixed with water to reduce lactic acid buildup.
Drinking a solution of baking soda dissolved in water may also lower the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles as baking soda works as an antacid substance according to a study. You will need around 0.3g of baking soda for one kilogram of your body weight. Mix the appropriate amount of baking soda accordingly with approximately 12 ounces of water. You can even add a few drops of lemon juice to the water.
19. Make sure to stay hydrated before and throughout your workouts.
Workouts drain a lot of water content from your body and dehydrated muscles can get really stiff and easily injured. Well-trained muscles in the body can have up to 73% water. Therefore, a number of biochemical and physiological bodily functions depend upon sufficient hydration to work properly. Water also helps in digesting food as well as in removing waste products produced by the working muscles. Drinking enough water will ensure that your muscles are supple and it will also flush out excess lactic acid buildup or toxins from the body which often lead to soreness and cramps. Consuming fluids and foods with a high water content such as fruits, vegetables, soups, and smoothies are essential for a healthy and fit body. You should drink 8-16 ounces of water prior to workouts and around 8 ounces every twenty minutes during your workouts.
20. Pre-condition your muscles before any workout.
Warming up and priming your muscles is the first and crucial step to a workout. Pre-conditioning your muscles will improve the body’s ability to adapt according to its inflammatory response. It will also increase sarcomeres, which is the basic unit of strain-minimizing striated muscle tissue. Warming up prepares the body for heavy exercises and prevents excessive soreness or imbalances.
21. Strengthen both your small and large muscles to prevent cramping easily.
Most people focus on strengthening only specific muscle groups while others are left underdeveloped. However, strength training is important is necessary to ensure that the muscles do not fatigue easily or quickly. Fatigue is a common cause of muscle cramps and spasms. There are muscles that we ignore that are crucial for training. For example, foot strength is required for a lot of exercises and can cause many problems if not developed enough.
22. Try out the kinesiology taping method.
Kinesiology taping is a technique that reduces pain and promotes lymphatic drainage by targeting various receptors within the somatosensory system. This remedy microscopically lifts the skin, causing certain convolutions and expanding interstitial space. It, therefore, restricts those muscles which are overworked or sore and makes the underused muscles to work instead. There are many ways in which the Kinesio tape can be used for treatment, and it should be used after evaluation and consultation with a professional.
23. Use a Tens unit device.
TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It is the type of treatment which uses low voltage electric current for relieving pain. This treatment is done with a TENS unit—a small battery-operated device that is often found at the chiropractor. The TENS unit has two electrodes connected to it and it can be hooked to a belt. The electrodes are placed on the affected areas and the appropriate settings and intensity are chosen to activate healing, stimulate the nerves, and alleviate pain.
24. Drink cherry juice before high-intensity workouts.
According to some studies, consuming tart cherry juice or cherry supplements can significantly help reduce muscle pains, soreness, and strains caused by high-intensity physical activity. Tart cherry juice has anti-inflammatory properties as well as high amounts of anti-oxidants. It is capable of significantly minimizing muscle damage, pain, post-lift strength loss and soreness after rigorous workouts. Its anti-inflammatory compounds can also aid the body to eliminate waste and facilitate muscle recovery and function.
25. Consume the right foods.
Foods that are high in fatty acids can minimize lactic acid in our muscles as they allow the body to separate glucose and therefore, reduce the body’s dependence on lactic acid for energy during an intense workout. Foods such as walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, mackerel, and plant-based oils like sunflower oil, olive oil, corn oil, soybean oil are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and they can reduce aggravation, soreness or inflammation. Carbohydrates form the primary fuel during workouts so carbohydrate depletion can impair our muscle relaxation and also cause cramps or spasms. You should make sure to consume a carbohydrates-packed meal or snack before a heavy workout.
26. Make sure you don’t suffer from deficiencies in electrolytes and B vitamins.
Electrolytes in the body are responsible for controlling the movement of fluids in and out of cells. Sodium is the major electrolyte that is lost through sweat during workouts. If you don’t replenish the electrolyte content in your body at regular intervals, it can lead to very low blood sodium levels and cause hyponatremia. Nutrient deficiencies like potassium and/or magnesium deficiency can easily lead to muscle spasms by inhibiting their ability to contract normally. You can take sports drinks high in sodium to avoid muscle cramps. Deficiency in B vitamins has also been shown by some studies to increase the incidence of cramps, particularly leg cramps.
27. Use arnica supplements or arnica cream or gel to reduce soreness.
Arnica is known to be a herb that is quite helpful in alleviating pain, promoting healing, and reducing bruising, especially in the soft tissues such as our tendons, muscles, and ligaments. You can apply arnica topically to the sore areas or take it orally to prevent muscle pain.
28. Keep your muscles flexible.
A flexible and supple body can go a long way in lowering the chances of getting cramps. If an exercise is constantly making a muscle to stretch beyond its normal or accustomed range of motion, it can eventually cause stiffness and spasms or cramps. Build up your range of motion and flexibility to make sure you can perform exercises without fear of injury or excessive soreness. Stretching and correcting strength imbalances are two ways in which you can maintain your flexibility.
29. Build up your strength and tolerance gradually.
Everybody who starts working out has a certain body or fitness goals in mind. But it’s foolish to jump into exercises that are too advanced or intense for you without building up your tolerance and strength and making sure your muscles can handle the strain. Fatigue and strain often cause cramps and lead to excessive soreness. Build up the intensity of your workouts gradually.
30. Keep exercising frequently.
This might sound like conflicting advice, but actually, you just need to strike a balance between working out enough and getting sufficient rest. Giving time for recovery doesn’t mean you should wait for many days or even weeks till your soreness subsides and then go to the gym again. Try to work out at least 2-3 days and gradually increase the intensity of your exercises or number of reps and also engage in active recovery or take one or two rest days.