The first day at the gym (or back at the gym) can be brutal, but in terms of muscle pain, the next day is usually even worse.
There are several things you can do to ease your body pain after that daunting first day:
- Don’t overdo it at the gym.
- Plan for active recovery days.
- Get a massage or use a foam roller.
- Get proper nutrition.
- Drink enough water.
- Ice or heat your muscles.
Don’t Overdo It at the Gym
We know you’re excited to get back to the gym and increase your fitness level, but don’t overdo it in your initial enthusiasm. While doing the exercise, you could feel fine, but hours later, you will be feeling the consequences of overworking yourself.
No matter how light of a workout you do, you’ll probably get some muscle soreness. It is normal and, in a way, desirable because it means you’re working out hard enough. But if you overdo it at the gym, your muscles are going to be so sore you won’t want to go back or be able to go about your day as usual.
Here are some tips for taking it easy at the gym:
|Take down the intensity||You should still work all the muscles you intend to work for that part of your routine. For example, if it is leg day, do all of the exercises you plan on doing, but maybe don’t dip as low into the squat or do fewer of them. This will prepare your muscles for the exercise the next time you hit the gym, without leaving you unable to walk.|
|Slow down||Maybe you could run an 8-minute mile when you were on the track team, but if you haven’t been on the treadmill in a while, you don’t want that to be your target. Start out slow and work your way up to a comfortable pace. When doing cardio, you should still be able to talk without too much trouble. If you can’t, you’re moving too fast.|
|Lift lighter||If your workout includes weightlifting, take it easy the first day. Select a weight that you can feel working your muscles but isn’t causing you to strain. Focus on having good form and getting back into the swing of things. You will still feel it tomorrow! We promise!|
Once your body gets used to working out, you can increase the intensity of the workout. Go easy on yourself the first week or so.
Plan for Active Recovery Days
The last thing you’ll want to do when your muscles are sore is another workout, but light activity will increase blood flow to the muscles, which will make them heal faster and reduce the amount of soreness you experience.
Some ideas for light activity include:
Having a rest day that doesn’t include active recovery is fine, but by adding one of these activities into your rest day, you are sure to reduce your muscle soreness.
Get a Massage or Use a Foam Roller
Massaging the muscles that are sore, either by getting a massage from a professional or using a foam roller, will increase the flow of blood to those muscles, just like light exercise will. This will help the muscle heal and reduce soreness. It also just feels incredible.
Getting a massage is sure to be an unforgettable experience, especially after that first workout, but if you can’t justify the expense, consider learning to use a foam roller like the AmazonBasics Round Foam Roller.
According to the Journal of Athletic Training, there is evidence that using a foam roller post-workout can help reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS is the muscle soreness you feel the day or two after a workout.
Get Proper Nutrition
Eating right is key to your overall health, but it is also key to the health of your muscles. Getting a sufficient amount of protein, carbs, and micronutrients will help your muscles heal rapidly and perform better at your next workout.
- Protein: Lean proteins provide essential amino acids which are the building blocks of your muscles.
- Carbohydrates: Despite what fad diets would have you believe, you do need carbs. Carbohydrates provide the fuel your muscles need to function. For optimal health, stick to unprocessed carbs like fruit and whole grains.
- Veggies: Don’t skip your greens. Veggies, like tomatoes, spinach, and kale, contain micronutrients essential to overall health and muscle growth.
- Anti-inflammatory foods: Muscle damage can cause inflammation. Eating a variety of anti-inflammatory foods will help ease that pain. They’re also super healthy for you. Berries, nuts, greens, and turmeric are all great options.
And also, don’t forget to eat enough. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, it is important to fuel your body with enough food that rebuilding muscle is easy.
Drink Enough Water
You’ve probably heard this one a thousand times. Drinking enough water is essential, and when you work out, you lose a lot of your body’s water through sweat. But not being hydrated enough can lead to increased muscle soreness and joint pain. Here’s how:
- Dehydration itself causes muscle soreness, and it would not be difficult to become seriously dehydrated after a tough first workout, especially if you aren’t already drinking enough water (and most of us aren’t).
- Water lubricates your joints. If you aren’t hydrated enough, your joints will not function as they should, which could lead to pain.
- Water improves blood flow, and blood flow is essential to muscle repair. The faster your muscles repair, the sooner the pain will go away.
You don’t need to do the gallon challenge to be drinking enough water. The traditional 64 ounces a day is enough for most people, especially when you consider most of our hydration comes from the food we eat. But on days when you work out, you should drink an extra 7 to 10 ounces for every 15 to 20 minutes you work out, according to ACE Fitness.
You don’t necessarily need to be that precise, just keep a water bottle handy during your workout and sip from it. Sipping the water will help you avoid an upset stomach.
Ice or Heat Your Muscles
There are different schools of thought about whether applying heat or ice to muscles is better and at which point in the recovery process each should be applied, but we recommend doing whatever relieves your pain the best. Here’s what you need about applying both hot and cold to sore muscles:
The Best Way to Reduce Body Pain After the Gym
While all of these methods will help reduce body pain after the gym, the easiest and most effective way to reduce the pain is to ease back into working out. Don’t push yourself too hard at the gym that very first day, and you’ll be ready to go back on the second. Over time, you’ll be able to increase the intensity of your workouts, but by then, your body will be ready for it.