When you try a new exercise, lift heavier weights or run steeper hills, muscles experience strain, and there’s micro-tearing at the cellular level. This leaves your muscles sore. Foam rolling, stretching and foods with anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce soreness, alleviate discomfort and get you back to your favorite exercise.
Stretching is an important recovery step in reducing muscle soreness and preventing injuries. Muscles can’t react to changes in length effectively when they are tight; stretching before exercise can help muscles move more effectively. Static stretching, or holding a stretch without movement, can be done before exercising, but it is most important after activity. Kinetic stretching, or warming up muscles with movement, is also beneficial, with the most benefit coming from its combination with static stretching.
Foam rolling has become a more popular recovery technique for the general population. Foam rolling consists of using a cylindrical tool and body weight to massage muscles. Foam rolling can be helpful when combined with stretching, because it helps break up adhesions in the soft tissue around the muscle, which allows for a better and deeper stretch.
Foam rolling can be beneficial before and after exercise. Rolling out before can help break up adhesions, and rolling out after acts as a form of self-massage, which aids muscle recovery. Targeting large muscle groups with the foam roller, like the lower extremity muscles (quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes) is most beneficial, but the foam roller can also be used on the large muscles of the back. If you have muscle soreness from a previous day’s exercise, you can foam roll the subsequent days to help alleviate soreness. It is recommended to foam roll directly after activity and every 24 hours after to reduce soreness.
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Diet also plays a role in recovery. Tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, nuts, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and fruits, especially berries, have anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce muscle soreness.
Don’t be afraid to try to a new workout. Just make sure recovery through stretching, foam rolling and a healthy diet are also part of your routine.
Laurie Blunk is an athletic trainer in the University of Kentucky Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine.