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What to Do for Sore Muscles After Lifting Weights?

author image Ramona French
Ramona French owned a massage school and taught massage for 28 years. In that time she wrote textbooks on Swedish, acupressure, deep tissue and lymph drainage massage. She is the author of "Introduction to Lymph Drainage Massage" and "Milady's Guide to Lymph Drainage Massage." Her book, "The Complete Guide to Lymph Drainage Massage," published by Milady, was released in October 2011.
What to Do for Sore Muscles After Lifting Weights?
Stay hydrated to avoid sore muscles. Photo Credit: Paul Burns/Blend Images/Getty Images

Intensifying your workout regimen or starting a new exercise program can result in stiff, sore muscles. Over-exercising can cause sore muscles, too, as can participating in an intense event like a marathon. Soreness can be due to strain or even minor tears in your muscles. It can also be due to working so hard your oxygen intake can't keep up with the demand, which results in the buildup of metabolic waste in your muscles.

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Rest is one of the most important factors for helping sore muscles. Allow adequate recovery time after working out, before you work that area of your body again. Rest doesn't mean inactivity; it means lower intensity activities until the soreness improves. It also helps if you warm up adequately before starting your workout and cool down slowly afterward by walking around until your breathing and heart rate return to normal and your muscles have cooled.

Ice or Heat

Application of cold reduces inflammation, swelling and pain. It also helps to numb the soreness. Apply ice packs to individual sore areas, such as your arms or legs. If you're sore all over, consider a swim in a cold pool, after your cool-down period. Gently swimming in a cold pool will act like a whole-body cold pack, reducing pain, inflammation and swelling. If you are still sore after 48 hours, switch to heat packs or a warm bath followed by gentle stretching and walking.

Medications and Nutrition

If necessary, take anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or similar pain relievers, especially if the soreness is severe. However, because these medications have side effects, don't rely on them all the time. If you find you are taking pain relievers daily, change your workout or see your doctor to find out whether there is something else causing your pain. Eat healthy foods to replace lost nutrients, including healthy carbohydrates, like fruits and vegetables, and protein.


Soft-tissue massage can work out the soreness of overworked muscles. This is not the time for deep tissue massage or Shiatsu, which can make the soreness worse. Ask for a sports massage or a medium-pressure classic massage with emphasis on effleurage to milk lactic acid out of the muscles. Effleurage is a long smooth stroke that empties the superficial veins and lymph capillaries, as well as stretching superficial muscles.


Dehydration can contribute to muscle soreness. If you weigh yourself immediately before and after working out, you'll find you may have lost 2 or 3 lbs. simply due to fluid loss. Drink enough water after your workout to replace the fluids lost due to sweating.


It might seem like stretching is the last thing you want to do when you're sore, but stretching your muscles after lifting weights will go a long way to prevent future soreness. When you lift, you contract your muscles. Stretching will help lengthen the muscles and create a balance. Do simple yoga stretches for your back, shoulders and arms. Use your exhalations while stretching to hep you stretch further without straining.

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