We’ve all been there. In our zeal to strengthen our core, tone our abs…maybe get a little 4 pack if not a full 6 (or 8!), we go overboard with the crank planks, Russian twists and ball pikes. You’ll leave the gym feeling like a bionic boot camp badass…until the next morning when you can barely sit up in bed.
Yep, like the rest of your muscles, your abs, obliques and the rest of your core movers and stabilizers are susceptible to delayed onset muscles soreness (DOMS), the painful inflammation caused by micro-tears in overworked muscles. “Generally you stay sore for about two days, and it diminishes as the inflammation goes down and you get rid of the fluid” explains David Costill, PhD, director emeritus of the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University. Still, when the inflammation is in your core, which is so essential to daily functions like sitting, standing, and breathing, it can feel debilitating. Here are a few strategies to get you belly laughing again quicker. (Check out our Big Book of Training for some of our favorite workouts!)
In a perfect world you could soak in a steamy bath until your soreness subsided, but the world is an imperfect place and a hot water bottle or heat wrap can do the trick just a well. The goal here is to heat up your muscles to increase blood flow in and out of the damaged area, which also speeds up the delivery of healing nutrients and the removal of metabolic waste. Apply a warm compress or bottle for 15 to 20 minutes at a time to relax stiff muscles and improve healing circulation
There’s no magical food cure for an achy core. But you can help mitigate the swelling with natural anti-inflammatory foods like tart cherry juice, watermelon juice, and omega-3 fatty acid rich foods like nuts and fish. Also drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated; dehydration can make muscle soreness worse.
You may feel like you should prevent any movement that hurts, but a little motion is actually exactly the soothing lotion your cranky muscles need. Research shows that active recovery
—gently moving your muscles—helps relieve post exercise soreness, likely by stimulating circulation. Gently stretch your obliques by lying on your back, pulling your knees up toward your chest and then gently dropping your legs from side to side. Soothe overworked abs by flipping over so you’re face down, with your hands flat on the floor on either side of your chest. Slowly straighten your arms, lifting your head, shoulders, and torso off the ground as far as comfortably possible.
As cyclists we talk a lot about compression socks
, but your calves aren’t the only hard working muscles that appreciate a good squeeze now and then. Compression base layers like 2XU Compression tops (available on Amazon
) can support your sore muscles and improve circulation, so you feel better while your muscles recover.
“When you do an activity you’re unaccustomed to, the contractions necessary are novel to your muscles,” says Costill. Those fibers won’t be as efficient as if you were doing an activity you practice regularly; some will be firing incorrectly; some will be tensing up. In other words, the new movement will beat those muscles up a little extra. So rather than sporadically hitting your core with a surprise movement every few months, set yourself up for success (and less pain) by making core work a regular part
of your routine.