How Do You Comfort Sore Muscles?

As littem noted today, sore muscles are a big reason to not exercise.  It’s not uncommon to start a workout program and end up pretty sore the day after exercising.  (Or to end up sore after going dancing or walking all over Disneyland.)  What to do?

First, the bad news: It’s supposed to hurt some if you’re trying to build your muscles.  It’s called delayed onset muscle soreness…and it’s normal.  (I think they skipped this in PE class!)  Stressing your muscles causes them to partially break down and re-grow stronger.  This can hurt.  Some soreness the day after exercising can mean you’re doing it right.  A lot of soreness the day after?  Can mean you overdid it.

No one is immune to muscle soreness. Exercise neophytes and body builders alike experience delayed onset muscle soreness.

So, what to do?  Ask yourself if you want to be stronger or if you’re happy where you are. Nobody has to exercise — and if you do, you can focus on maintaining where you’re at, not on increasing strength or speed.  I choose to exercise for my own selfish reasons, so sometimes I’m sore the next day.  Especially when I decide to push myself to see if I can do something.  Or forget to do less after not working out for a week.  Or get lost in the music and dance an entire concert. Or ….

The rest of this post is divided into preventing soreness and alleviating soreness. Continue reading

Starter Strength Training Moves

[In response to the “You weigh 400lbs and you exercise???  How can I start??” emails, I seem to be doing a “how-to” series on exercise.  Skip it if it doesn’t interest you.]

Strength training is often seen as weight lifting, but you don’t have to use weights, so for this post I’m going to assume there aren’t any.  You don’t have to already be able to do pullups or pushups, either!   One of the best ones for me is a simple exercise I got from the physical therapist* that I call chair squats:

  1. Sit down.  (Lower seats are more challenging; higher ones are easier.)
  2. Stand up slowly, using both legs.
  3. Slowly lower yourself back down, again using both legs.
  4. Repeat.

How many times do you repeat?  Depends on where you’re at.  I was told to repeat it 10 times in a row, then try for another 10, and to work up to a third set of ten.   (In exercise-speak this is “2-3 sets of 10 repetitions“.)

BUT…what if you can’t do this ten times?  What if you’re having trouble doing this twice in a row? Then just do it twice. It’s a good idea to stop if you have to speed up — you want to keep your movements slow and controlled.**  Keep doing it twice every day or every other day** and soon you probably can do it three times in a row, then four. You can shake it up a bit, doing 2 sets of 3.***   You can also try a different chair.  Eventually you may not need to have a chair at all — which is a full squat, in bodyweight parlance.

That is strength training in a nutshell:

  1. Pick a movement that uses muscles you want to make stronger.
  2. Repeat it as needed (up to 8 – 12 times).
  3. Rest.
  4. Do this  2-3 times a week, or every other day.

What’s the benefit?  The chair squat is a compound exercise, meaning it’s strengthing multiple muscles — in this case, most of the muscles in your legs — to do a better job of supporting you.  You may improve your balance and joints.  It’s a functional movement, meaning it’s a movement you do in real life, and so it benefits your real life.  You don’t need any equipment other than a chair.

Ah, you wonder, what about the rest of the body?   Here’s where I started:

  • Abdominal crunches**** I’m a desk worker.  These really help my abdominal muscles stay strong enough to support my back when I’m working late.   I had decades of low back pain until I started doing these and back exercises—now I compare crunches to flossing.
  • Bridge Okay, I started with the modified Cobra from Yoga for Round Bodies, but the physical therapist recommended this, and it’s easier to describe without video.
    1. Lay on your back on the floor, with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.  You want to be fairly comfortable.
    2. Lift your bottom off the floor, so you are holding yourself on shoulders and feet.  Try 20 seconds at first.  You can vary the length or do repetitions.
  • Wall Push-Ups I’d known about these for years, but had never made the leap from wall-ups to full push-ups.  One day Noël pointed out that doing push-ups on the kitchen counter is harder than wall-ups, easier than full push-ups, and it’s still a compound exercise that uses arms, chest, and upper back.   If you’ve got a flight of stairs available, you’ve got even more options to adjust how much of your bodyweight you’re lifting with your arms.
  • Walking. If you haven’t been walking much, walking will be a strength training move for you. After my injury, 4 minutes on the treadmill was a challenge. I got stronger.  One woman began her exercise program by walking around her kitchen using her counters for support, 25 steps at a time, 100 a day. She got stronger.*****

Pushups, BTW, touches on something else.  I have a history of wrist injuries.  When doing upper body exercises I have to be careful to keep my wrists straight and to not overstrain them — which makes any variant of pushup more challenging for me than someone who hasn’t had wrist problems. In this case, I’m doing lots more of the easier exercises (wallups) and not moving onto the harder ones.  Everyone has different histories and limitations — the key is to know your own issues.  If something isn’t working, try a different exercise or an easier variation instead.

*No, I’m not a physical therapist myself, nor do I play on on the internet.  You know your abilities and limitations much better than I do.

**If you push harder, you will likely have sorer muscles the next day.  Keeping things slow and controlled is a good way to be sure you aren’t pushing, but to really avoid soreness do less than you think you can.  Some tips to alleviate sore muscles:  train every other day or every third day; warm bath or shower; stretching the sore muscles; going for a comfortable walk; ibuprofen or another favorite painkiller.

***More discussion of the terms and how you can vary things is here.   I’ll be posting more on that later, too.

****I remember doing this in high school and my mother complaining that she found it too hard to get up off the floor to do them.   I wish that exercise balls had been easier to find then!

*****Story is discussed on a page that also discusses weight loss here.  Please don’t follow the link if discussion of weight loss will make you uncomfortable.

Aerobics at Home

(This is based on Paige’s comment on the Why Go to the Gym? post.  My reply was getting awfully long, and I thought other folks who read this blog would have good input too. )

[J]ust going outside to walk isn’t an option 8 out of 12 months in the year… Reason being, going outside the heat is so intense that I get far too near passing out for comfort. So I’ve been trying to figure out ways I can get my heartrate up in my apartment, but am kind of struggling.

I’m unable to jump (jump rope or jumping jacks) much due to size (and because the last time I tried it, my downstairs neighbors rushed upstairs to make sure I was still alive… and when they saw I was, expressed concern with the thickness of their roof/my floor and doing jumping jacks on it. =\ ) so other than walking circles in my living room, I’m pretty stuck.

Oh gads.  I’m so sorry.  I had a downstairs neighbor complain about hearing me dancing about 11am one morning.  I said I was exercising and asked if he was a night worker, and he said no.  I think he felt guilty at the thought of telling a fat lady not to exercise!

I tried throwing the radio on and dancing but again we ran into issues with how loud it was with me bouncing around on the roof above the lower-neighbor’s heads. I really hope you have a thought or two… I want to get moving but I’m not really sure how to go about it.

The aerobics things I do at home are:

  • Dance, which you note is a problem for you.
  • My low-impact aerobics tape, which I’m pretty sure is out of print.  To give you an idea of what it does, it has some walking back and forth and side to side, including doing the Charleston, and lots of arm movements while walking.   The downstairs neighbor asked if I was exercising in the second bedroom in the mornings, so he noticed it, but he said it wasn’t as loud as outright dancing.
  • My Pedal Excerciser (mini stationary exercise bike).  I find pedaling with it during Jeopardy to be fine for getting my heart rate up to the aerobic range.  It is small and portable, which is nice, but you have to find a chair that’s comfortable for you to use it with.   Also it doesn’t get as challenging as a full stationary bike — my husband complains that it’s not enough of a workout for him.
  • Housework.  It’s not as steady as the others, but — for me — picking up/putting away / washing windows / washing dishes / dusting / vacuuming / changing beds / etc IS aerobic. It’s also low impact.

I’ve also been known to go to an air-conditioned mall, preferably one that has food options scattered throughout. I walk for 30 minutes, stop for a drink, walk for 30 minutes, repeat. The trouble with this is that the general traffic flow is often too slow for me to get to an aerobic range.   I don’t doubt the activity is good for me, but if I want to get aerobic stuff, then faster is good.   Some malls do have specific early hours for walkers — the pace is quicker then, if it doesn’t conflict with work/school.