9 post-exercise recovery tips

Professor David Cameron-Smith shares nine simple ways to reduce muscle pain and speed up recovery.

Written by David Cameron-Smith

You may have noticed that exercise can hurt. Not just during exercise but for several days afterwards. This pain is known as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS.

DOMS is a feature of all exercise, from gardening to mountain biking, that involves the repeated lengthening and contraction of muscles. Looking closely at the affected muscles, scientists have pinpointed the presence of many small tears in the tiny muscle fibres that make up the larger muscle groups. These small tears set off responses that are both good and bad.

The good is that the muscle releases many growth factors that are required to repair and adapt the muscle. This adaptation is necessary to build bigger, stronger and faster muscles.

The bad is that the damage to the muscle signals immune cells, so like a wound, these immune cells are activated and cause swelling and pain. So it is true there is no gain without pain.

There are many strategies to try and moderate the pain and maximize the gain. Here are a few tips for bouncing back fast.

1. Prepare

Be well hydrated before you start exercising. Becoming dehydrated increases muscle damage.

2. Warm up

Muscles take a while to become compliant and flexible. This can be achieved with a combination of gentle stretching and warming up exercises where you go through the motions slowly and without pressure.

3. Build slowly

Most severe muscle soreness follows intense and unfamiliar exercise, so it’s important to gradually build up. Exercise gradually and build up to more intense and sustained exercise as part of a lifestyle or training program.

4. Monitor your fluids

As well as drinking water before you start, make sure you stay hydrated throughout exercise. This is particularly important during the warm summer months. Remember even activities such as gardening and housework can be strenuous exercise.

5. Cool down

Slowly taper down the exercise and finish with some stretching.

6. Rest and recover

Give your muscles a chance to rest, repair and regenerate. If the pain is severe, treat muscle soreness as if it’s an injury by using the R.I.C.E technique (rest, ice, compression and elevation).

7. Take over the counter pain relief

If muscle soreness is preventing you from sleeping, careful use of gentle pain relievers can help. The pain relievers don’t improve the healing process, but having a good night sleep is vital.

8. Increase your omega-3 intake

Fish and fish oil is rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. These essential fats reduce the severity of inflammation and speed recovery.

9. Eat veggies and fruits

Antioxidant rich fruits, such as blueberries and dark cherries, reduce the level of muscle inflammation and can speed recovery.

Written by David Cameron-Smith

Professor David Cameron-Smith is a health expert and the current Chair in Nutrition at the Liggins Institute, University of Auckland.

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