Just like other muscle groups, your abdominals can develop soreness after being overworked after a difficult set of sit-ups — particularly if you’ve been neglecting these muscles in favor of strengthening your arms or legs. Strong core muscles, which include the abs, obliques and pelvic muscles and are worked hard when you do sit-ups and variations thereof, play a role in nearly every movement you make during the day, so you might need a little soothing if you overdid your last workout.
Sore muscles following a hard workout — officially known as delayed onset muscle onset, or DOMS — typically occur if you start a new exercise program, change it significantly or ramp up the intensity or duration. Therefore, if you've been ignoring your abdominals and then bust out 100 sit-ups during one exercise session, you'll likely experience DOMS the next day or two.
It’s thought that these changes make your muscles work harder than they’re used to, which causes minuscule tear in the muscle fibers. Contrary to popular belief, soreness isn’t the result of lactic acid build up.
The good news: Those muscles recover and, as a result, they get stronger. As your body adapts to the sit-ups routine, you’re less likely to feel the same sort of pain. However, the soreness could last between three to five days.
DOMS shouldn’t be confused with pain caused by injury. If you feel an acute, sudden or sharp pain, stop exercising immediately — it could be a muscle strain or sprain.
Some Like It Hot
Warm temperatures increase blood flow to sore muscles, which can relieve the pain. Place a heating pad against your sore stomach muscles or soak in a hot bath — particularly a good idea if it’s not just your stomach muscles giving you trouble. You could also use a peel-and-stick heating pad, which is thin enough to wear under clothes if you have to head to work or run errands.
An over-the-counter pain reliever can help you feel better temporarily. However, the Hospital for Special Surgery recommends the use of acetaminophen rather than ibuprofen, which can prevent your muscles from healing themselves. Talk to your health care provider before taking any medications.
Stretch It Out
Turn to yoga to stretch those sore stomach muscles.
Lie down on your stomach and place your hands flat on the floor under your shoulders. Your legs should be together, and your chin resting on the floor.
Squeeze your thighs, glutes and core, and push the pubic bone down into the floor. Take a breath and lift your head and chest off the floor.
Push your palms into the floor and, keeping your elbows close to your sides, push up until you feel a stretch in your stomach muscles. Drop your shoulders down and push your chest forward, feeling it open.
Hold for five breaths and release on an exhale, slowly lowering your chest and head to the floor.
Lie on your back. With your knees bent, place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Position your arms so they rest alongside the body, with the palms facing down.
Inhale, press your feet into the floor and lift your hips up, rolling your spine off the floor. Push your arms and shoulders down into the floor to lift your chest up. You should feel a stretch in your stomach muscles.
Hold for five breaths, exhale and release to the starting position.
If this is too difficult, place a yoga block under your hips to support your weight.
Stop, Drop and Roll
When you have sore muscles, a foam roller can be your best friend. A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training in 2015 found that after intense exercise, using a foam roller can effectively alleviate DOMS, as well as improve muscular performance. In the study, researchers recommended a 20-minute foam rolling session immediately after exercise, as well as every 24 hours after as muscle pain continues.
To properly roll, position yourself so the sore muscles are in contact with the foam roller. Slowly roll until you feel the most tender spot, and then target that spot with the roller for between 30 and 90 seconds. Foam rolling works best with thicker, stronger muscles such as the obliques.
Do not roll out sore muscles if you suffer from congestive heart failure, kidney or other organ failure, bleeding disorders or contagious skin conditions, says the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Next Time Around
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Next time you work on your abdominals — or any under-exercised body part, for that matter — start the program gently. Allowing your muscles the time to adapt to the intense movements can decrease the chance of DOMS.
In the next workout, finish one full set of each exercise using proper form or decrease the number of repetitions you do during each set. Once your muscles have adapted to the exercise, increase the number of reps or sets.