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Men's Fitness

May 2000

p. 104


Soothe the Burn

By Frank Claps, C.S.C.S


11 Ways to extinguish post workout pain


It was a great workout, one of those days when everything in the gym seemed to weigh only 20 pounds. You even strapped on some weight when you did pull-ups and dips. But two days later, your muscles ache, your joints throb and your back has more knots than a Boy Scout camp. What the hell happened?

“Working out means you’re pushing your body just past the normal limit,” says Philip Maffetone, D.C., a complementary medicine specialist and author of Eating for Endurance. “In a sense, there is a tissue breakdown, then there’s the rebuilding. In the rebuilding process, where you get stronger, there is an inflammation response.”

Often called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, this exercise-induced breakdown is believed to be the result of microscopic tearing Of the muscle fibers and the connective tissue that surrounds them (see “Hurts So Good,” March 2000). Your body interprets this as an inflammation, and initiates a series of events designed to combat it. The anti-inflammatory response involves bringing in extra fluid containing inflammation-fighting agents, which creates extra tension or pressure at the site.

“With the extra pressure, free nerve endings are stimulated,” explains Eric Sternlicht, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and president of Simply Fit, a nutrition and exercise consulting firm. “That creates the pain you feel.”

OK, so it’s a “good” pain, but it still hurts. And seriously active guys who work out regularly often experience excessive or chronic inflammation. While you can’t avoid it altogether, there are things you can do to minimize post-exercise soreness. (Remember, any pain that persists during exercise and limits function should be dealt with differently, and nothing in this article should be considered a substitute for consultation with a physician.)

To stop one intense hour in the gym from reducing your next 48 hours to searing agony, follow the inflammation­fighting tips below. By combining hard workouts with smart nutritional and therapeutic moves, you can make muscular gains without the pain.


1.     Warm up beforehand.   Too many people start pushing iron without letting their bodies make the transition from easy char to bench press.  

        "Warming up slowly raises the heart rate and body temperature," says Maffetone,  thereby  making the muscles and connective tissue more pliable and supple.  A good warm-up can be a mere five to 10 minutes of walking or stationary biking.


2.    Stretch.  Ideally, this should be done before and after working out.  "During or after a workout, a muscle is shorter than it's normal [natural] length," notes Tudor Bompa, Ph.D.,  a strength training expert and author.