We've all felt the pain of sore muscles after an intense workout, but there are steps we can take to avoid that muscle pain that starts during the work out. If your pain is simply soreness from working so hard, there is a lot you can do, but first, assess. Be sure that you are performing the exercises with correct form. Pain from poor form or injury is a different issue all together. Seek out a trainer to give you some form advice and watch yourself in the mirror.
Step 1: Hit the Cardio Machines
Step 1 is quite possibly the most important step. Prevention is key here, and can also ease muscles that are already sore from your fierce weight training the day before. Your first stop, pre-lifting, should be a cardio warm up. Jog, run, bike or row for 10 minutes before you start your lifting session. Most recommendations are for 5 minute warm ups, however 10 minutes really gets your blood pumping. Your best bet is to log your 10 minutes on a total body machine, like the elliptical or the rowing machine, especially if you're hitting your upper body hard for the day. Lightly stretch your muscles before you hit the weights.
Step 2: Go Gradual
Isometric exercises (exercises where you hold the weight which is too heavy to move) cause more muscle soreness than concentric (moving / repetitions) exercises. So, start at a lower weight, and add to the stack if you can handle more.
Step 3: Stretch It Out
Instead of resting between sets, stretch the muscles that you just worked. This gives the added bonus of lengthening the muscle fibers after shortening them (this is what causes the pain) and has been proven to actually increase strength and strength training progress.
Step 4: Move More
Completing your weight training in circuits keeps your heart rate up and blood pumping to your hard working muscles. That extra oxygen flowing to your muscles aids in recovery while you burn extra calories during the workout. Try working one muscle group, then the opposing group. Biceps then triceps would be one circuit, chest then back another, and so on.
Step 5: Roll It Out
You know those 3 foot foam rolls that gym-goers are always hanging out on? They are like a little self massage! Grab one and place it under your hamstrings at the start of your stretch session. Cross your ankles, push up on your hands and roll out any knots or soreness. Lean onto one leg while you roll, then the other. Place it under your glutes to roll out knots in your backside, or down to your calves to massage out the pain. These are pretty inexpensive if you have a home gym. Expect to feel a little minor pain, like you would during a massage.
Step 6: Stretch Completely
End your workout with a substantial cool-down. Be sure to work in 5 minutes of walking or slow stairs, etc before moving on to your stretch session. It is important to stretch completely after every workout to avoid muscle soreness later. Stretch each muscle group, and hold each stretch for 15 seconds before switching legs.
Follow these 6 steps during your next strength workout and see the improvement that it makes. Maintaining a workout schedule that includes at least 20 minutes of physical activity each day can help ease muscle pain on more difficult days. On days off, go for a walk, do yoga, or at least stretch to keep your muscles limber.