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The expression “no pain, no gain” is commonly tossed around in fitness circles. Trouble is, consistently pushing yourself too hard in the gym or on the field can come with some serious drawbacks. In addition to making muscles tired and weak, too-tough workouts can increase your risk of injuries.
While pushing yourself at the gym is inherently a good thing – it means you’re working your muscles to the point of fatigue so they can come back stronger after recovering – it’s also important to take time for rest and recovery.
Rather than push through pain, which is likely to end up taking you out of the game or away from gym for a longer time period, strike a balance with these seven tips for avoiding and recovering from those times when you overdo it:
- Listen to your body. If you’re sore after a workout, don’t mask the pain with medication. Your body needs that inflammation to get stronger. Plus, medication can dampen your body’s pain signals, so you’re less equipped to determine when to stay on the sidelines. A better approach: Pay attention to your body’s cues and back off – or slow down – when you feel the burn.
- Use a foam roller. Rolling out your aches and pains on a foam roller can help sore muscles. Not only does it improve circulation and get the blood flowing, foam rolling also helps your muscles and joints become more pliable.
- Eat a nourishing diet. Rather than nosh on an energy bar or down a protein shake before or after a workout, both of which are typically loaded with processed ingredients, strive to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Eat a chicken breast, grab a handful or nuts or sip on chocolate milk. Any of those options is much better than buying protein powder.
- Hydrate. Dehydrated muscles are less pliable and that means they’re more likely to tear. The best advice: Weigh yourself before and after your work out so you know how much to drink. Typically, we recommend 8 ounces of water per pound of body weight lost.
- Stretch it out. Before activity, stretch with more dynamic movements – jumping jacks, side shuffles and other movements that get the heart pumping. Once you have that sweat going, do your workout and finish with static stretches focusing on each of the major muscle groups you worked.
- Get more sleep. Sleep is where the magic of recovery happens. In fact, during rapid eye movement sleep (or REM), your body produces the hormones required for repair and rebuilding. Adults should aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night while teens and adolescents need 12 to 13.
- Mix it up. If you’re a hard-core runner, take a break from running and go for a swim or take a yoga class. Like to play tennis or racquetball? Consider going for a run or doing a rowing workout every now and then. The idea is to work different muscle groups on different days to reduce the risk of repetitive injuries and fatigue.
A little discomfort and muscle soreness after a workout is to be expected, but if you’re experiencing shooting pains or ongoing stiffness, that’s not something to work through. Instead, take it easy, listen to your body and allow yourself time for rest and recovery.
If you still pushed too hard? Soothe aching muscles with R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Then, gradually get back to your usual activities by starting small and slowly building up. Then come up with ways to modify your workout so you’re not overstressing the muscles that were injured. It’s better to hit the start line undertrained and healthy than overtrained and injured.
Nick Parkinson, M.Ed., AT, ATC, is a certified athletic trainer who provides care to patients in coordination with our orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine physicians at Henry Ford Medical Center – Columbus in Novi. He also serves as the athletic trainer for the student athletes at University of Detroit-Jesuit High School.
From injury prevention to treatment of sports-related conditions, visit henryford.com/sports or call (313) 972-4216 for an appointment within 24 business hours or to download our sports medicine app, featuring first aid/injury help, videos for all athletes, contact information for physicians and trainers, and more.
This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Henry Ford Health System.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.