We’ve all had times when we’ve worked out a little too hard, stretched our muscles a bit too far, or twisted the wrong way, only to find ourselves in pain the next day. By keeping a few tips in mind, you can avoid many common workout mistakes that lead to pain and injuries. And for the times when you do wake up sore after the previous day’s workout, a number of natural remedies can help ease pain.
First Things First: Posture
Are you sitting up straight, with your shoulders rolled back and your feet flat on the floor? If you’re like many of us, chances are your shoulders are slumped, and you’re exhausted from hovering over your keyboard all day. Rounded shoulders, a forward-tilting head, and a swayback (increased curvature of the spine above the buttocks) are all signs that your body is out of alignment. Your joints, ligaments, and muscles try their best to compensate for muscle imbalances created by poor posture, but they can’t always prevent you from getting injured.
Good posture allows you to move with minimal stress on the muscles and joints. “It is very important to have good posture to prevent workout-related injuries, but it is just as important to do exercises that will ensure correct posture,” says Jim Ryno, fitness expert. To improve posture and regain alignment, try a workout that integrates alignment exercises, like yoga or Pilates.
Pay close attention to your posture at all times, whether you’re on the elliptical machine or walking around the neighborhood. “While working out, we often get so caught up in making sure we lose weight or have great abs that we don’t often concentrate on making sure our posture is being properly maintained,” adds Ryno. “If your posture is not aligned while working out, injuries can ensue, as weight is not distributed evenly. When your posture is off, your body is strained and pressure is put on blood vessels and nerves.” Improper form also increases your risk of developing “overuse” injuries like tendinitis or stress fractures.
Always Warm Up
Cold muscles need a chance to warm up before a workout to prevent injuries. If you’re getting ready to perform a cardio activity on a treadmill or elliptical machine, start at low intensity, “going just hard enough to break a light sweat after five to ten minutes,” says fitness expert Alwyn Cosgrove. If you’re using free weights or weight machines, “do slow and controlled movements [for each exercise] until you feel comfortable with the weight you’re working with,” recommends Ryno.
Some Pain Is Normal
It’s normal for your muscles to be sore 24 to 48 hours after a vigorous workout. But, according to Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist and vice president of educational services with the American Council on Exercise, there are some occasions when pain indicates a real problem. “Joint pain of any degree or severity should not be dismissed or ignored,” says Dr. Bryant. Since the ankle, knee, elbow, and wrist aren’t covered by muscles, pay attention to pain in these joints.
Persistent pain is also a red flag. “If the pain persists for longer than two weeks or gets worse, see a healthcare professional,” Dr. Bryant recommends, especially if the pain doesn’t respond to the usual treatments, such as the RICE formula (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Swelling also indicates that you may need medical attention.
When you roll out of bed the day after an intense workout to find your muscles sore and stiff, look to Mother Nature for relief. A number of homeopathic formulas are a smart addition to any medicine cabinet or gym bag. Arnica montana relieves pain caused by sprains and strains.