Sore Muscle or An Injury? Here's How To Tell September 22, 2015 11:35

On day three of the 21 Day Fix, a program that the majority of my clients use to develop lifelong fitness and nutritional habits, I usually hear something like, "Joline, I seriously cannot move. How about I do leg day tomorrow?"

Having never experienced muscle soreness, many wonder whether they have suffered an injury?

My usual response is, "Nope. Do it today. You'll thank me tomorrow.”

How does one tell the difference between sore muscles and injury?

Sore muscles are tender when touched. They might also feel heavy, tired or "burn" while exercising. This ache and tightness usually occur 24-72 hours after exercising and can even be present during rest. Unlike injury, muscle soreness lasts only a few days -- which is why I tell my clients not to quit on day 3.

Today, as I write, I am coming off a 55-minute barbell workout yesterday. I woke with tight muscles. I feel a tad black and blue. On days like these, even I am tempted to take the day off, but knowing that muscle soreness decreases with movement, I press on.  My body needs the alternative activity to aid the recovery process.

In contrast to muscle soreness, an injury will reveal itself with sharp pain both during exercise and while at rest. The onset of injury can occur in the midst of the activity or within 24 hours. If not addressed, it will linger and possibly worsen if attempts are made to "push through the pain."

Years ago, on a camping trip, I lifted a heavy duffel bag by twisting it unnaturally over my shoulder. Immediately, I felt a dull "ping" in my deltoid (a muscle in the shoulder). For days, I could not use that arm for daily functional movement. I ended up in weeks of physical therapy.

Assuming there is no injury, how can one work through sore muscles?

1. Move it, to lose it: When sore, alter the workout. For me, that meant replacing a barbell workout with active recovery through stretching and light body weight exercises. Movement eases muscle soreness.

2. Fill your glass: Drink water or a product designed to aid hydration/restore electrolytes during workouts (particularly one that is not loaded with dyes or sugar). Doing so will help to relieve muscle cramping.

3. Pass the protein: Feed those muscles properly post-workout by choosing lean protein. Egg whites, fish, turkey, chicken, quinoa or a protein shake (without artificial ingredients) consumed within an hour of the workout are good choices. Protein helps aid muscle recovery and reinforces them to become stronger and more efficient.

4. Find your place at the table: the massage table, that is. As a fitness professional, I get a massage every five or six weeks. Massage helps me to avoid future injuries and just feels great. Treat yourself to a sports massage to knead out the kinks.

5. Lower the limbo bar: So maybe a rousing game of limbo isn't the goal, but staying flexible and limber should be a priority. Take the time to stretch those muscles when warm. Stretching should be a part of any smart workout program -- and not just at the beginning and end of class. At a minimum, commit one day a week to complete active recovery with something like PiYo or Yoga, for example.

That first week might be tough, but keep moving. You will be proud you did.

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