6 Ways to Take the Ouch Out of Your Workout

From the WebMD Archives

By Carrie Sloan

Starting a new workout routine can be great -- unless your arms are so sore you can’t wash your hair afterwards. No one should have to walk around with dirty hair or have to sit out the Wave at sporting events, so we turned to two experts -- one who leads punishing SoulCycle classes for a living, and a trainer who counsels the New York Yankees -- to find out their secrets to becoming exercise buffs who can still get out of bed the next day.

1. Hydrate with coconut water. Ever wonder why your muscles cramp? One common cause is actually dehydration, not exhaustion. To combat this, you need to begin drinking fluids before you start your workout, and keep sipping throughout. "It always starts with hydration,” says Tomas Mikuzis, a SoulCycle instructor in New York City. “Hydration is the key before, during and after a workout.”

In fact, if you’re hydrating with pure water, he recommends upping the ante: “The new thing now is raw coconut water, which helps you hydrate even more by replacing the electrolytes you lose through sweat,” he says. “I always drink it after class.”

2. Eat a banana before you leave the house. Never exercise on an empty stomach. “I highly suggest eating some potassium,” says Jon Koga, a physical therapist who also founded the sport of Koga, a fusion of kickboxing and yoga, loved by everyone from Megan Fox to Dr. Oz.

“One banana an hour prior to any vigorous workout is absolutely going to help with muscle cramping,” he says. “The potassium will get distributed into the bloodstream right away, and it’s one of the best sources of nutrition in terms of limiting the lactic acid that makes your muscles ache.”

3. Stretch during your workout. Who knew? Stretchingwhile you sweat is crucial. “You’ll see people say, ‘OK, I should stretch before my workout and after, but stretching throughout the workout is even more important,” says Koga. “When you’re shocking these muscles and you’re pumping this fresh oxygenated blood into them, stretching will decrease the lactic acid buildup.”

While you’re working out, try what he calls static stretching: “Hold the stretch -- not your breath -- for between eight and 16 counts,” he says. “That will increase your range of motion and your tendons, ligaments and muscles will become more elastic because they heat up.”

4. Use a foam roller. You can buy these simple rollers -- used by physical therapists to relieve knots in muscle and soft tissue -- on “It’s pretty much like a deep tissue massage you can do yourself,” says Mikuzis. “Roll it across your hamstrings and your quads. You can lie on it on your back and give your lower back a stretch. The foam roller has so many possibilities.” Find three great stretches here.

5. Rub and soak. Once your muscles get sore (you’ll actually feel worse on day two after your workout, once the lactic acid sets in), try a topical aid like Ben-Gay or Tiger Balm. “It’s soothing,” says Mikuzis, “and when you can’t roll over in the middle of the night, this will give you temporary relief.”

Mikuzis also recommends soaking in Epsom salts: “If you’re hurting from head to toe,” he says, “put this in a nice, warm bath.”

6. Know when to say when. Above all, they say, know your limits -- and when to push past them. “Everyone has a different pain threshold,” says Koga, “and it’s important to know yours.”