Prevent Muscle Soreness

Take the "ouch" out of training and love your active lifestyle, with tips from our experts. Bonus: Your questions answered!

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If you want a kick-butt training session tomorrow, you need to pay attention to your gym habits today. By taking the necessary steps to prevent postworkout soreness now, you can prevent aches and pains later. We asked three experts to answer your most common questions about muscle soreness, and here’s what they had to say.

When I am lifting to failure, how can I do it without making myself sore the next day?

Decrease the number of sets performed to failure, compared to the number of sets that you do regularly when exercising, says Alan Mikesky, PhD, FACSM, an exercise physiologist at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. For instance, if you regularly perform three sets of 10 reps in your workouts, decrease the number to one set, if your plan is to go to failure with a heavier load. It’s enough of a challenge to the muscles to yield strength gains, but without causing significant muscle damage and subsequent soreness.

Do muscle rubs and creams work?

In a word, no. A study performed in the UK found that topical gels and creams were no more effective at treating muscle pain than a placebo. In order to have any chance of working, they’d have to actually reach the muscle, which is about one inch beneath the skin’s surface, says Reed Ferber, PhD, director of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary in Alberta. These rubs penetrate no further than a quarter inch down.

Will eating cherries before my workout help to reduce muscle soreness?

A study published in 2011 found that participants who swallowed a tart cherry gel made from whole fruits shortly before performing a strenuous resistance workout, reported 24 percent less muscle soreness after taxing their bodies, compared to a group that consumed a placebo gel. “Antioxidants in cherries, such as polyphenols, have natural anti-inflammatory properties,” says Declan Connolly, PhD, an exercise physiologist and director of the Human Performance Lab at the University of Vermont. The kicker? You’d need to gobble up about 50 cherries to net the same benefit as that found in the study, so while adding cherries to your preworkout meals might help with soreness, they’re not a magical solution.

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