By Firdous Asmodien, USN Athlete and Physiotherapist
So it’s been a while since you have exercised. Maybe a few months, or even years and it’s taken you some serious thought of when and how to get started. For weeks on end you have been going back and forth, making excuses as you go along. FINALLY, you build up enough courage, psych yourself up, dig out that vest, tights and training shoes from the back of your wardrobe and take the plunge! Only to experience so much discomfort and pain during and after you train.
Getting into a new exercise routine can be a bit daunting and that exercise discomfort or post-exercise pain can sometimes be really unpleasant, so much so, that it could create a fear of exercise for the beginner. The more experienced person, more specifically bodybuilding athletes or those active individuals focusing on muscle growth, welcome the pain.
Now let’s talk about intra- and post-exercise pain and what this means. The pain or discomfort that you’re experiencing could be caused by one of three things:
1. Lactic Acid Build- up:
Lactic acid is produced in the muscles as a by-product of anaerobic exercise, such as weight training or sprints. A buildup of lactic acid occurs when your body cannot keep up with the need for oxygen supply to help with the process of glycolysis (the process of breaking down of carbohydrates). Lactic acid production is a protective mechanism, causing the ph. level in your muscles to drop from around 7.1 to a more acidic level. When it drops to approximately 6.5, this affects the muscles ability to contract. At this point you may experience some muscle pain, accompanied by some possible disorientation and even a bit of nausea, which could result in you throwing up. Your body is telling you to stop what you are doing.
2. Micro-Tears for Muscle Growth:
By doing weight- or resistance-training, you are actually causing tiny tears in your muscle fibres, known as “micro-tears”. The body then repairs these micro-tears and adapts the muscles to handle this type of strain or stimulus in a better way. When these tears are rebuilt, your muscles can become larger and stronger. The actual pain felt is called delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) and may not be muscle fibre damage. The pain you feel may really be inflammation caused by the natural inflammatory process of the body. It normally takes about 24- 72 hours for DOMS to settle, progressively getting worse first over the first 2 to 3 days and then gets better usually from day 4 onwards. Should the pain not feel a bit better by day 4, chances are you probably acquired an injury that may heal itself, but may also require some medical attention. Please consult your Doctor or Physiotherapist if the pain persists.
3. Injury/ Pathology:
Injuries can range from minor to severe depending on the structures involved (muscle, joint, bone or nerve) and the extent of the injury. In some cases, it could be as simple as minor muscle spasms which could be treated with heat and stretching. This type of injury usually recovers well over a few days. In the more severe cases, or in the event of unexplained pain which could be an underlying or unrelated pathology, it is advised to consult a Doctor or Physiotherapist.
So now that we understand what your pain could mean and we’ve all heard that saying “No pain, no gain”, we know that pain is not necessarily a bad thing, but guess what?
That does not mean you have to “suffer for beauty”. There are a few things you can do to reduce or minimize your exercise and post-exercise pain and discomfort.
DOUSIE’S TOP RECOVERY TIPS:
Make sure you are properly warmed up before you start any exercise, especially any strenuous exercise. For this you can do 5-10 minutes of low or medium intensity cardio such as jogging, step-machine or cycling before tackling any heavy weight or resistance training.
2. Stretching post-exercise and in between sets.
Stretching is very important after any exercise, while your muscles are still warm. It is also recommended to do some stretching intermittently during a session, especially if you are doing long strenuous sessions. Make sure you take the time to lengthen your muscles after putting them under a lot of strain. Hold your stretches for 15-20 seconds and be careful not to “bounce” in and out of your stretches, but rather gradually ease into and out of the stretch. Repeat each stretch at least 3 times.
3. Take deep breaths when you exercise:
Your muscles need oxygen, as explained earlier, so take deep breaths to prevent early lactic acid buildup, so that you can train for longer.
4. Pace Yourself:
Make sure you are training at your correct level and intensity. Doing too much too soon can cause harm. You may gradually progress your training program every 2 to 3 weeks, to ensure constant improvement.
There are four supplements that I believe are crucial for muscle repair and recovery and this forms part of my “staple” daily nutrition plan:
1. Branched Chain Amino Acids:
This helps you to perform better and for longer, increase lean muscle mass and recover faster.
Take this during and after your workout.
My favourites include:
• USN BCAA Amino Gro
• USN BCAA 12:1:1
• USN BCAA Amino+
Glutamine is an amino acid which is stored in the muscle tissue and skeleton. It plays a role in nitrogen transportation into the muscles, which helps to keep the body in an anabolic state. During exercise, glutamine gets depleted and replenishment of glutamine may assist in muscle repair and preservation.
Take this after working out and before bed.
My favourite is USN Pure Glutamine
Creatine supports protein synthesis which aids muscle gains, enhance recovery and improve physical performance. Micronized creatine is absorbed faster and better than other compounds of creatine.
Take this before and after working out.
***NB Ladies: Don’t be afraid to use creatine! You will NOT build muscle overnight!
My favourite is USN Pure Creatine
4. Whey Protein:
This protein is rapidly absorbed by the muscles, within an hour of consuming it, making it the ideal choice of protein for muscle repair, recovery and development after your workout.
Take this directly after your workout.
My 3 favourites include:
• USN BlueLab™ 100% Whey
• USN Hardcore Whey gH
• USN Diet Whey IsoLean
REST & RELAXATION:
Something that so many of us forget is the importance of rest and relaxation. Whether you are a competitive athlete or whether you are on a general health and fitness program, your body and mind needs downtime in order to recover and perform well.
Here are a few recommendations:
1. Sleep :
Ensure you get at least 6 to 8 hours sleep every night. Your body recharges when you sleep and this is important to optimize your daily functioning. This is also needed for the growing process. Not getting enough sleep can be counter-productive.
2. Rest days:
Ensure that you have at least one rest day where you don’t do any strenuous exercises for at least one day out of your weekly training program.
3. Post-competition days:
After any big physical competition or event, for example soccer tournaments, triathlons, marathons, body building competitions, allow yourself 3 to 5 days of full recovery before jumping back into a strenuous training program.
Ensure you are well enough to train. Being ill or not being well while you train, can extend your period of illness, resulting in you possibly ending up with secondary infections and complications.
A good massage helps to relax tight, aching muscles but can also reduce anxiety, headaches and insomnia. A deep tissue massage or sports massage from a qualified massage therapist is highly recommended after a strenuous physical competition or event, or at regular intervals, maybe once or twice a month, during a stressful training program.
There are several forms of meditation.
a. Traditional meditative techniques: awakening and isolating all your senses, listening to the soothing sounds of nature, focusing on the sweet scent of the fresh ocean, watching how rhythmically the waves move back and forth.
b. Doing yoga, connecting the body and mind.
c. Attentively listening (really paying attention to the words and the sounds of all the various instruments) to some of your favourite music, preferably the more slow and calming types of music.
d. Taking a slow stroll on the beach
e. Going for a scenic drive
f. Reading a book
g. Slow, relaxed breathing techniques
7. Ice baths:
These are commonly done post-competition by several competitive athletes, but it is also highly recommended after strenuous or intense training sessions. This is also known as cold water immersion or cryotherapy and is used to speed up recovery and reduce muscle soreness and inflammation.
8. Spending time with friends/family:
Often when following a strenuous training program, you may lose contact with those you care about. Take time out, maybe on your rest day, to socialize and spend quality time with your loved ones, as this helps to bring balance in your life.