For most of us, muscle soreness is a hurt-so-good sign of a tough workout. Although tight, stiff muscles isn't the only (or most important) way to know you've worked hard, it can signify a job well done. But no one wants to be sore for days on end.
Generally, post-workout abdominal soreness or pain is normal, especially if you've tried a new workout or increased your exercise intensity or frequency. If your pain persists after a few days and some recovery techniques, you should consult a health care professional.
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Want to get to the bottom of your muscle pain? Consider these four reasons your abs hurt after a workout.
1. You're Trying a New Exercise
If you're feeling some pain in your abs after a workout, chances are you're experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), says Lee Hanses, PT, DPT, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in Seattle.
Muscle soreness is a normal and healthy reaction to intense exercise and usually sets in between 24 to 48 hours after your workout, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
When you exercise, your muscles undergo micro-tearing, which can sometimes cause pain or DOMS. Within 72 hours, though, your body should have repaired nearly all of the damage and the soreness will likely fade.
The tearing in your muscle fibers can occur for a variety of reasons, but one of the big culprits is new exercises. Beginners and seasoned athletes alike undergo stress when moving in an unfamiliar pattern.
2. You're Increasing Your Exercise
Along with unfamiliar exercise, you may feel ab soreness if you train at a higher intensity or longer duration than usual, according to the ACE. Or you may feel extra sore if you start exercising more often.
Again, your muscles react well to new stimulus or variables, abs included. If your routine doesn't involve any new exercises but you've increased your intensity, duration or frequency, don't be surprised if you feel a little soreness in the following few days.
3. You're Not Drinking Enough Water
You're likely aware that you lose fluids through sweat during a workout. But thirst isn't the only sign you're not well hydrated. If you're feeling abdominal cramps and stitches during or after a workout, you may not be drinking enough water, according to the Mayo Clinic.
A good way to gauge if you're drinking enough water is by looking at your urine color, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Ideally, your urine should be straw or lemonade colored. Urine that's darker yellow in color means you should increase your water intake.
Exercising for long durations or in warmer temperatures can increase your rate of fluid loss. Also keep in mind you might be sweating more than you realize if you're doing an activity like swimming or skiing.
4. You're Eating Too Close to Your Workout
Gastrointestinal issues, like diarrhea or gas, are common during or after exercise, especially for endurance athletes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Often, abdominal bloating or pain is a symptom of these conditions, too.
Everyone's body reacts differently to eating before exercise but generally, you'll want to avoid foods that are high in fiber or gas-producing foods, like beans, bran, fruit or leafy vegetables, per the Mayo Clinic. Several hours before your workout, limit caffeine intake and drink plenty of fluids, too.
How to Relieve Sore Abs
If your ab muscles are feeling particularly tender a day or two after a tough sweat session, some light activity might help relieve the pain. Try low-intensity active recovery like walking, massage, stretching — and don't forget to get plenty of sleep, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Lee recommends spending some time foam rolling the area gently, taking time to pause and release tighter spots on the muscles.
You can also try the upward-facing dog yoga pose to release tightness, Lee says. Here's how to do it:
Upward-Facing Dog Pose
- Begin lying on your stomach, hands beneath your shoulders and legs extended behind you.
- Keeping your hips and lower body on the ground, press into your palms.
- Raise your torso off the ground and press your chest up and out gently to feel a stretch along your abdominal muscles.
- Hold here for several breaths and return back to the floor.
- Repeat as needed.
If your abdominal pain lasts several days, you may want to consult a doctor, Lee says. If your pain is severe and/or accompanied by other symptoms like fever, vomiting or swelling, talk to a professional as soon as possible. "Persistent abdominal pain shouldn’t be ignored and you should schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor."