Get Strong in 2019 Challenge Day 18: Foam Rolling and Stretching for Muscle Soreness

Young woman exercising in gym
Relieve sore muscles with a foam roller. (Image: miljko/iStock/GettyImages)

You've just done a tough workout that you know you'll be feeling tomorrow. Yay! But also, yikes. The good news is that there are few measures you can take to help ward off those jelly legs.

Regular foam rolling can help increase your flexibility and mobility, and it's also a great way to dig into those trigger spots, like your hips and shoulder blades. And dynamic stretching and light exercise (walking, cycling, etc) gets blood flowing to your achy muscles while allowing them to lengthen back out and relieve tightness caused by your workout.

To help you fight the good fight against post-workout muscle soreness, here's a helpful guide.

When to Pay Attention to Post-Workout Pain

You know that good kind of sore — those achy, post-workout muscles? It's called delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Not to worry, it's your body telling you that the work you've been putting in is taking hold.

However, if you feel pain that is more than muscle soreness, stop and take heed. We want you to push yourself and work hard toward your goals, but not to the point of injury. Don't let your ego or stubbornness put you on the sideline.

Always focus on proper form and safety. Learn how to identify different aches and pains so you'll know the difference between those you can safely keep working through and those that could be a serious warning sign.

Pain is your body's way of telling you, "Hey, ease off the throttle a little. You're pushing me a little too hard, and I don't want to get injured." (We're paraphrasing here.) You need to be aware of your limitations and ensure that you've selected the proper activity for your fitness level. (Remember that whole thing about learning to crawl before you walk?)

3 Tips for Common Muscle Soreness

  • Turn up the heat. Sit in a steam room, sauna, hot bath or take a nice hot shower. The heat will help your muscles relax.
  • Relieve the tension with a massage. A CMT (certified massage therapist) can work out muscle tension and help you be more aware of signals from your body.
  • Bring on the foam roller. Regular massages can be expensive, but a foam roller can provide relief to your tired, aching muscles without the cost.

How to Foam Roll to Relieve Sore Muscles

So you have a foam roller (or your gym does). Now what? How are you supposed to use this tool that kind of looks like a torture device (and kind of feels like one... in a "hurt so good" kind of way)?

Essentially, you target the muscles that are giving you the most grief. Sore hamstrings? While seated with legs extended, place the roller underneath one of your legs just above your knee so that it's perpendicular to your leg. Place your hands by your butt and lift up so that your leg presses down onto the roller.

Now rock back and forth so that it rolls along the length of your hamstring. When you get to a particularly tight or sore area, stop and roll back and forth just over that small area with as much pressure as you can handle (don't go past the point of pain).

You can do the same thing for your glutes (your booty), hips (just turn on your side), calves, obliques (sides of your abs) and shoulders. And if you don't have a foam roller, you can substitute a tennis or lacrosse ball. But since it's smaller and more targeted, you'll want to apply less pressure and use it on smaller muscle groups (shoulders, calves, hips, etc).

Best Stretches for Muscle Soreness

Like foam rolling, the best way to stretch to relieve tight muscles is to pick a stretch that targets what's sore. So if you're quads (front of your thighs) are sore, stand and bend one knee so your foot it behind you. Grab that foot with your hand a pull your foot toward your butt until you feel a stretch. Repeat on the other leg.

Similarly, if your abs are on fire, lie on your belly and press up into Cobra or Upward Facing Dog. Make sure your hands are shoulder-distance apart and press your torso off the ground. You can stop at just a few inches (Cobra) or if your back is more flexible, you can push all the way up so that your arms are straight and your thighs come off the ground (Upward Facing Dog).

Or let's say your pecs (chest muscles) are really tight from lots of push-ups. Grab your hands behind your back and lift up until you feel the stretch across your chest. Alternatively, you can grab onto a wall or pole with one hand, and then twist away from that arm to stretch the same muscles.

Learn More About Soothing Sore Muscles

Your tired, sore muscles deserve a little TLC. After all, they've carried you through some pretty grueling workouts (not to mention all the day-to-day activities they facilitate). Check out the guides below to pamper your sore legs (and back and arms).

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