Working Through Sore (and how I recover)

I’ve recently given quite a bit of thought to the concept of “good sore” vs. pain.  Several weeks ago, I was involved in a pretty heated facebook discussion of whether sore merited a day off from the gym. More recently, one of my good friends has really upped the intensity of her training sessions (and the frequency) and we have had several discussions of how sore she is on a daily basis. (I should add here that so far she has been awesome about continuing her hard work and pushing through!) While I am now at a point where I am not crazy sore from every workout, there are definitely days! I may be strange in that I usually kind of like being sore. To me, it gives me the “that was a good workout!” feeling.


So what do I do when I am sore? Take a day off? Usually the answer is NO. (This will be where I add my big disclaimer that I am not a doctor or a fitness professional. What is “right” for me may not be right for you, and the following is simply my personal experience and opinion!) Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a big pain, but not an injury. So what is the difference between “good sore” and pain? Pain is sharp or biting. It can effect the joints. Soreness will (mostly) be muscular and usually feel like a stiff and/or tight feeling.

I often have people comment to me that they “don’t know how I do what I do.” My most honest answer to this is I never stop. As soon as you take a couple weeks off from the gym, the soreness is right back. I believe in active recovery. I very rarely take more than 1-2 days off in a week. (I do, however, force myself to take at least one day off. For those of you that are crazy like Missy and myself, rest is very important too!) Soreness to me means that I may need to rest that muscle group, but it does not mean I can’t do something. Ever sit in one place too long and then have a terrible time getting moving again? Even after the hardest of physical efforts, I try to do something later that day or the next. I have been known to come home from half marathons and walk the dog or mow the lawn. The day after my first full marathon I went for a 2 mile hike. It was a very easy effort, but I think it helped my legs to move. I am not saying push through pain – I am simply saying that sometimes after light activity soreness will actually feel better!

Along with “active recovery,” I have begun to pay a lot more attention to other recovery methods lately. When I first journeyed into fitness I paid little or no attention to recovery. At some point in time, I had to start actually thinking about recovery and how to do it better.

I think I kicked my recovery methods into high gear during marathon training last fall. I essentially had seven weeks to take my body from half marathon ready to full marathon ready. This required adding miles onto my weekly long run at a rate faster than what most would suggest. I have kept using some of my recovery tactics post-marathon and added in some new ones post-surgery. (I should probably add here for those of you who don’t know me or haven’t read my past surgery posts that my injury, while aggravated by running, was a genetic issue with my foot – it was not something I “did” or caused.) My injury has caused me to pay a lot more attention to pain.  As soon as I feel “bad pain” as opposed to tired or sore, I will immediately adjust.  Not too long ago I even hopped off the treadmill mid-workout to switch to a rower when I felt “bad pain” in my foot.  It is very important to make this distinction!

While everyone’s body is different and may respond differently to recovery techniques, these are some of the things that work for me:

I developed a love-hate relationship with ice baths during marathon training. It was the most awful 10-15 minutes of my week (Um, yes, I would far rather run 20 miles than sit in ice for 10 minutes!!), but I truly believe it helped reduce soreness. There have been more and more studies coming out lately saying that ice baths are somewhat pointless, but I personally am a believer. I started taking them for any run longer than about 15-16 miles and felt less sore after some of these than the previous 13-14 milers. The only difference between these runs was the awful ice baths. If you have never taken an ice bath before and are inclined to try, here is what I did: Fill a tub with the coldest water possible from your faucet. Dump 1-2 large bags of ice into the water. When you get in the water, keep your socks and underwear or sport shorts on. (Trust me on this one! It makes a huge difference & those are not the areas needing the ice anyway.) I also wore a sweatshirt & have heard of people wearing a hat & gloves. You really just need to submerge your lower body so do whatever you need to do to stay as warm as possible from the waist up.

When I first started my boot camp class at Lifetime Fitness, I was sore (really sore) on a regular basis. I am not a big supplement girl, but my trainer introduced me to Glutamine. Glutamine is an amino acid that aids in muscle recovery and helps to build your immune system (which is torn down by intense workouts). This article explains it much better. I go through phases where I am good about taking this and then “forget” for a few weeks. I always notice a difference, especially when my training is at a peak. I am a strong believer that each individual should talk to their doctor, nutritionist, etc. before starting a supplement so while I am telling you that I personally am helped by this, it may or may not be right for you.

I am a big proponent of wearing compression socks for recovery after long runs/races. I personally don’t like wearing them while I run (though many do and swear by it!), but I will throw them on for several hours later in the day (post ice bath!).

My foot surgery introduced several more fun gadgets and gizmos. I now have two different boots that the doctor has given me to wear (I get to alternate – yaaaay!) in order to help the flexibility in my foot and recover post workout. I have begun to explore the benefits of athletic tape. Shortly after my surgery I had the opportunity to be “professionally taped” at a race expo. I noticed a huge difference. I kind of forgot about this until recently when Missy was taped for something. I dug out my tape and a few YouTube videos later have learned several methods of taping my own foot. I can definitely feel an immediate difference when I tape well.

I find that a good deep tissue massage helps with recovery also. I do not do this often enough, mostly due to time and cost. However, if I am really sore or something feels “stuck” or not right with my muscles I will definitely go for a massage. For those of you who have never tried it, deep tissue massage is not relaxing.

I also believe strongly that icing works for many injuries. Unfortunately, many of us skip this because it is just so inconvenient. Thankfully, I recently found a solution to my foot icing woes. I found an awesome product called Icy Feet that straps on your foot to ice while you are doing other things. In fact, I am writing this blog sporting my Icy Feet and a TENS unit on my quads right now.

What is a TENS unit you may ask? TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It is thought to increase the blood flow to the muscles which will (hopefully!) speed recovery. I recently bought a portable home unit. I started out only using this on my foot. I just started using it on my legs post long run (or two a day workout day like today) and feel better than expected this week. My little unit will definitely be coming with me in the van when I run my first Ragnar Relay with Team Swirlgear in six weeks!

My recent recovery "set-up" post long run -- TENS, compression & Icy Feet!

My recent recovery “set-up” post long run — TENS, compression & Icy Feet!

Last, but most certainly not least, I do my best to think about post workout nutrition. The sports medicine pros at ESPN explain it: “athletes need carbohydrate and fluid to replace glycogen and water losses during the exercise. The muscles store more glycogen immediately after exercise than they do later.” Makes sense, right? On the days I get busy and don’t eat within that first hour after a workout, I notice a huge difference. Not only will I be more hungry all day, I am usually more sore. Many experts are now suggesting that fifteen minutes is more ideal than an hour! (I think this means we are justified in post workout trips to the Cafe, Missy!) It is also important what you eat. That post race bagel on it’s own isn’t ideal. It is best to consume both protein and carbs. The protein will help to rebuild the muscle tissue that is damaged during intense or long training sessions. While “real” food is ideal, if you just can’t stomach it immediately after your workout a protein shake with some fruit will get you both the protein and carbs you need.

So… what is the craziest thing you have done to try to recover? What technique do you find works well for YOU?

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