“The first wealth is health.”―Emerson

Are you one of those weekend warriors who has the urge to go out for a run, play a round of golf or tennis now that the weather is warming up and the days are getting longer? Are those few pounds you gained from the holidays still lingering?

Returning to an exercise routine or starting a new routine after taking months off is a wonderful thing for the body. However, have you ever experienced muscle soreness for days after exercising? Sometimes it feels like you can barely walk. Why is that?

Delayed onset muscle soreness is common, especially when returning to an activity you haven’t participated in for a while. There is a build up of lactic acid in our muscles that can take up to three days to set in. A decrease in blood flow, red blood cells, and oxygen to our muscles also contributes to dehydration, soreness, and cramps.

Aside from muscle soreness, which we can all recover from within a week of a hard workout, you may also be at higher risk for injury when returning to an activity you haven’t participated in for weeks or months. Your muscles are not as strong, flexible and and may not react as quickly. More importantly, we must not forget about our heart. It is a muscle too, and if it hasn’t been working that hard in the last couple of months you will probably find yourself huffing and puffing while fatiguing after a twenty-minute run rather than your usual hour. If you find yourself straining to reach that sixty-minute mark, your muscles are at risk of injury because they may not be getting sufficient oxygen and blood to give them the stamina they need.

Here are some tips on how you can make your exercise routine effective and FUN while getting back into shape without causing too much soreness or possible injury.

1. Hydrate

Drink plenty of water BEFORE you exercise. Don’t wait to drink fluids after your exercise or when your body tells you its thirsty. Make sure to get a balance of water and electrolytes prior to working out. You may not experience as much soreness. Your muscles will thank you.

2. Warm-up

Go for a ten- to fifteen-minute walk before you jump into your run, soccer scrimmage, or golf game. Walking gets the heart pumping and muscles warm.

3. Mini-workouts

Rather than going full speed, mentally prepare for a shorter workout. Start with a twenty or thirty minute workout instead of your usual sixty or ninety minute routine. You will experience less soreness giving your body the chance to exercise a few days later.

4. Interval Training

If you want to get back to a jogging routine try interval training. After your warm up do a twenty-minute walk:jog using intervals. Run for three minutes, walk for one minute and repeat until you reach twenty minutes. You will have more energy, have gotten your heart rate up, and have burned a little fat. Interval training is a fat-burning workout. You can build up over several weeks (i.e. 4:1; 5:1, etc.) This can also be applied to other workouts using speed intervals, fast:slow, on a bike, elliptical, stair climber, etc.

5. Cool Down

Finish your workout with another ten- to fifteen-minute walk or stretching routine. Now that your muscles are really warm, they appreciate a cool down. Muscles also prefer to be stretched when they are warm, which is why I recommend you stretch AFTER you work out rather than before.

6. Mix it Up

We all tend to stay in our comfort zone, returning to the same routine over and over again. So mix it up. Do the usual routine one day and try something different a couple days later. Providing balance is essential and can help decrease soreness and prevent injuries before they start.

7. Goals

Sometimes we set lofty goals or New Year’s resolutions that we never accomplish. Be realistic. Are you really going to go to the gym five days a week? Those who start out this way tend to fade and may stop going altogether. Start out one or two days a week and maintain that routine for at least a month before adding another day.

8. Exercise as a part of your daily routine

Do you live close to the grocery store, local coffee shop, or eatery? If so, walk or bike. Making exercise a part of your daily routine is easy and can make the whole experience fun rather than stressful, like sitting in your car during rush hour trying to get to the gym.

9. A Day Rest

Make sure to give your body a day’s rest. Your entire system can benefit from a day’s rest between workouts on the weekends. Not to mention, this can prevent burnout.

10. Healthy Eating

Make sure to nourish your body after you exercise with the right fuel. Have a snack that will replenish your muscles. Avoid sugary or processed foods. Eat a snack with protein as muscles thrive on protein-rich foods.

Erin Carr, DPT, is an integrative physical therapist at The Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine. She works with individuals of all ages and variety of conditions using a multi-faceted treatment approach. She spends time educating her patients on their injury and healing process creating a team approach with the goal of diminishing pain and restoring optimal function. You can also visit Erin’s website HERE.

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