Among active people post-workout soreness may be normal, that doesn’t mean it’s natural.  Okay, some workouts are going to leave you sore.  Karen or Tabata squats will trash your quads, Angie may leave your lats lit up.  This is a function of high volume, explosive movement.  Muscle pain is an inevitable outcome of this type of training.  But the soreness you experience after most workouts is neither inevitable nor optimal.  If you’re doing everything correctly stiff, achy joints and nagging back pain are not to be expected.   So what is going wrong?

1) Incorrect Movement Mechanics
Inefficient movement mechanics put more strain on your body; you are using greater effort to accomplish your work.   If you are trying to generate power from smaller, weaker muscles rather than transferring power from your core, those smaller, weaker joints and muscles are going to be over-taxed and consequently sore.  The more efficiently you move the less pain you are going to experience.  At Empower we are constantly hammering the importance of core-to-extremity movement.  Sloppy reps = post WOD soreness.

2) Inflexibility
If you’re lacking in mobility, you will not be able to move as efficiently.  You will develop compensatory movement patterns.  Often your flexible spine will end up compensating for stiff shoulders or hips.  Improving your mobility will help you move better and keep the load where it belongs in the stronger, more stable joints.  DK to the rescue.

3) Core weakness
The core both stabilizes the spine and serves to transfer force from lower to upper body and vice versa.  Any weakness in your core will result in poor spinal posture under load (back pain) and ineffective transmission of force (pain everywhere else).  If you’re flexible and still can’t maintain good mechanics through a full functional range of motion, chances are you are suffering from core weakness.  Get planking!

4) Nutritional Deficiencies
This one is so common and yet most of you reading this don’t believe it applies to you.  As soon as we start tracking your eating habits we are almost certain to find one or more of the following deficiencies:

Protein deficiency – The most common problem among athletes.  In training we are breaking down muscle tissue that can only be efficiently rebuilt if you provide your body with an adequate protein supply from good, complete protein sources.  If you don’t, you will be sore!

Too many carbs – carbohydrates trigger an insulin response, insulin is an inflammatory hormone.  Inflammation is an essential part of your healing and recovery but too much inflammation exacerbates soreness and slows down healing leading to prolonged soreness.

Skewed Omega 3: Omega 6 ratio – Omega 6 fatty acids are inflammatory, omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory.  We need both in order for our immune system to function well.  Problems arise when the ratios are out of balance.  Modern diets tend to be way too high in omega 6’s which are found in almost everything you eat.  Omega 3’s on the other hand are much more difficult to come by, the most abundant and bioavailable sources being cold water fish like salmon.  An optimal omega3:6 ratio is thought to be 1:3 or 1:6 while modern diets are measured at 1:20 or worse.  If you’re not eating fish daily, a high quality fish oil capsule like Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega is a great supplement.  Don’t bother with the cheaper brands.  Pure Pharmacy on 4th beside IGA carries this product at lower prices than most places AND keeps it refrigerated which is a big plus!

When it comes to recovery, food is where it’s at.  Seriously, changing my eating habits had the greatest effect on my post workout soreness.

5) Active Recovery
If you are going from a desk to a high intensity workout and then right back to sitting, you are going to be sore!  And the more sore you are, the less inclined to move you will be.  But the best way to flush out inflammation and reduce soreness is through low intensity movement: walking, swimming, cycling, gentle yoga, DK’s mobility class.  The more you move, the less sore you will be.  If you absolutely cannot move, try a hot tub, sauna or hot bath until you are loose enough for some low intensity movement.

Just because you are surrounded by other sore athletes does not mean you need to suffer too.  With the exception of a few movements (GHD Sit Ups) or WODs (Cindy) I am very rarely sore despite averaging eight training sessions per week.  There are a lot of things you can do to help reduce soreness and keep yourself healthier and let’s face it; you will enjoy your training so much more when you aren’t hobbled by the stiffness and pain of yesterday’s workout.  Break the cycle of suffering and you will move better and feel better!