- While you certainly don't need to change your body with the seasons, many of us increase our workout frequency in anticipation of warmer weather.
- The trouble is, this can lead to a lot of muscle soreness.
- Not giving your body enough time to recover can hinder your progress and lead to injuries, personal trainer Sana Shirvani told Insider.
- You could also try deload weeks, elite performance coach Luke Worthington recommends, which essentially means working out more gently every fourth week or so.
- Also ensure you're sleeping enough and eating protein to help with recovery.
- Read more Working it Out here.
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I've recently amped up my fitness routine to get in shape for summer, music festivals, and wedding season — I'm doing weights sessions four times a week plus two cardio workouts. This has resulted in a lot of extra soreness throughout the day, though. Is there something I can do to help abate the pain without slowing down too much or taking days off my fitness routine? Do amino acids really help with muscle repair? Should I just be rolling out more? Do I just need a massage? Help!
— Sore and Suffering
I'm not surprised you're in pain! From what you've said, this sounds like a pretty intense programme, and the fact of the matter is you're probably not giving your body enough time to recover.
While this workout schedule can be fine for athletes or people who've gradually worked their way up to that training volume, for most people, jumping to this level is going to stress out your body.
You don't say how much you were working out before, but considering you say you've "amped up" your routine, my guess is you've done more than just add one session to your existing plan.
You don't need to get in shape for summer
Firstly, I just want to get one thing clear: No one needs a "summer body," so please don't feel that pressure.
Our bodies don't have to change with the seasons, and the way you get a bikini body is by putting a bikini on your body.
That said, it's OK to have aesthetic goals, and it's normal to want to feel confident on vacation, at festivals, and at parties.
But if you're going to do something drastic and unsustainable to attain the physique you want, you have to be OK with the results being short-term, too.
You can't live your life pushing your body to its limits and suffering through DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) every day.
Cut down your training and try deload weeks
It sounds like you're overtraining.
"Four days of lifting plus two days of cardio is quite a workload if it's also being combined with a busy work and social life," elite performance coach and human movement specialist Luke Worthington told Insider, adding that the most he ever asks of his clients in their hardest training phases is four strength days a week.
"When programming for my clients I work in four week blocks, the third week in every four being the hardest/heaviest, the fourth week then being a deload or 'back off' week before beginning a new program," he said.
If you're new to training, Worthington recommends adopting a linear progression, which essentially means working a little harder or lifting a little heavier each week.
But progress at this rate can only last so long.
"There is a point at which you have to be a little smarter, so some kind of undulating periodisation needs to come in to play," Worthington said, adding that it sounds like you've reached this point and just pushing ahead isn't working anymore.
"My suggestion is to look at the program structure and make sure it incorporates some lower load weeks (every fourth is a good guide)," he said.
"Don't think of deload weeks as going easy, think of them as opportunities to work on form and technique that will then allow you to work harder and more effectively in the heavier periods."
Don't chase soreness
A lot of people think that if they're not sore after a workout, it wasn't effective. But this isn't true, according to qualified personal trainer Sana Shirvani, who works closely with actors and athletes.
"DOMS [delayed onset muscle soreness] essentially happens due to micro-trauma to your muscles," she told Insider. "If you have increased your activity intensity, you are likely to feel some soreness within 48-72 hours.
"Four weight sessions, and two cardio sessions a week is a lot of training. When ramping up your training, you might start to experience more DOMS, and symptoms can range from muscle tenderness to severe debilitating pain.
"The good news is that this shouldn't last forever as your body will adapt to the new training stimulus, and eventually the soreness will start to lessen."
Shirvani also stresses that if you don't give your muscles enough time to recover properly, you're more likely to injure yourself.
"Have a think about the programming of your workouts. Are you working the same muscle groups over and over without giving sufficient time to recover and repair? Essentially, you need to allow time for your muscles to repair after you have caused these micro tears," she explained.
"If prematurely returning to sport or exercise occurs, you could have an increased risk of injury due to causing more damage to a muscle which hasn't repaired itself yet, or even a maladaptation causing you to become weaker."
Incorporate active recovery
Giving your body adequate recovery time can't really be fast-tracked, unfortunately.
"Foam rolling doesn't really have much impact on muscle soreness, and neither do amino acids. Sports massages can in some cases make it worse!" explained Worthington.
Although some people swear by BCAAs (branch chain amino acids) to help their body recover, Shirvani pointed out that these are expensive, the evidence around them is mixed, and you can get all the amino acids your body needs by eating a high protein diet.
She also recommends foam-rolling at the start of your workout, rather than as a recovery technique: "There isn't any evidence which shows that foam rolling might be harmful in any way, so I would advise foam rolling for improved blood flow and tissue mobility," she said.
Instead of investing in expensive products and services, try active recovery like walking and swimming, as well as ensuring you're getting enough sleep and fuelling yourself appropriately — Worthington says these are the most effective ways of reducing muscle soreness.
"Active recovery is more effective than simple rest as it encourages blood flow to the working muscles helping to move metabolites away from the area, reducing local inflammation and soreness," he explained.
You could also consider replacing one of your workouts sessions with something low-impact and mobility-based, like yoga.
Many of us are sleep-deprived, and it's one of the most important factors in recovery. Worthington suggests creating a sleep hygiene routine.
"This can be as simple as having the same bedtime and alarm time every day, not allowing it to go into free fall at the the weekends (which minimizes the Monday morning 'jet lagged' feeling)," he said.
If you want to invest and make things more complex, you can consider using blue light filters in the evenings — or just avoiding screens.
"Personally I have found my own sleep quality, and therefore recovery ability, energy levels, and mood, improve dramatically from consistency around sleep hours, combined with using the dimmer switches in the evening and a self imposed post 8 p.m. tech ban!" said Worthington.
Shirvani echoes the importance of sleep and suggests if you're not getting enough, you gradually increase your shut-eye.
"I would aim to get at least eight hours of sleep every night — I know this might not sound too realistic for most people, but it's a lot easier than you think," she said.
"Start with an extra 15 minutes, then make it an extra 30 minutes, and slowly keep racking the sleep miles in. It's the 1% changes which will accumulate to a big change overall."
Rest leads to better results
To get leaner, it's ultimately all about being in a calorie deficit, which can be created by diet, so you really needn't stress about adding in another rest day.
In fact, you'll probably find that resting more gets you the results you want faster because you'll have more oomph when you do go to the gym — I always find I have my best workouts after a couple of days off.
"Recovery is king," said Shirvani. "My life changed when I realized this. My training improved, I was recovering faster, performing better, my soreness was less, my brain function increased."
Wishing you well,
As Insider's senior lifestyle reporter and a self-described fitness fanatic, Rachel Hosie is fully immersed in the wellness scene and is here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you're struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.
Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips — she regularly speaks to some of the world's most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she's always up to date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest and healthiest life.
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