How to Prevent Muscle Strain

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Straining your muscles when you exercise can cause delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS: pain that comes about 12 to 24 hours after a workout and stays for about three to five days. Avoid DOMS by designing your workout to prevent muscle strain; warm up before you exercise, gradually build up the intensity of new exercise and get enough rest between workouts.

Warm It Up

  • When you exercise, muscles that are cold and stiff strain and tear more easily than warm muscles. Raise your temperature and get your blood flowing to specific muscles using movements that mimic your workout. For example, to warm up for bench press, first lift your arms in the bench press motion without weight. Heat up your core with movements like walking and jumping jacks. Very fit people need less time; about 10 minutes is enough for easier workouts. Intense workouts and beginning exercisers need longer warm-ups, even up to 25 minutes.

Get Eccentric Gradually

  • Most strain happens when muscles stretch and lengthen--eccentric motion. Muscles lengthen when you walk or run downhill and, in weightlifting, when you lower or pull a bar or weight back to its starting point. Reduce DOMS and muscle damage by starting new eccentric exercise at low intensity and gradually increasing to higher intensity. For walking, running or other cardio, start slowly on a flat surface, then increase speed and inclination gradually over one to six weeks. For strength training, start with lighter weights and fewer repetitions and put more pressure on muscle-shortening movement, or concentric motion, which happens when you push or lift a weight up. For the first week or two, count to four as you push or lift and count to one as you lower or pull the weight back. Lower your lift or push count gradually to three, then two and then one by the sixth week.

Critical Muscle Recovery Time

  • Muscles need rest time between workouts to recover, repair and rebuild. To prevent muscle strain and ongoing DOMS, don't work the same muscles every day. Recovery time depends on age, genetics, fitness level and other factors. A general guideline is two days for people between 20 and 35, three to five days for people between 35 and 50 and a week for people over 50. Less recovery time is needed for light workouts and small muscles, like biceps, than for heavy workouts and large muscles, like hamstrings. Getting a good night's sleep is also essential to the recovery process. You'll know you have the timing right when you feel less pain and see more results.

More Health, Less Pain

  • Resist muscle strain by keeping your body and mind strong and healthy. Diet, chemical substances and mental state all affect the health of your muscles. Give your body the protein, complex and simple carbs, healthy fats and water it needs each day to perform your workout and then repair and rebuild your muscles. Avoid using steroids and recreational drugs and think positive about exercise. You're doing it to feel better, not to punish yourself. Some soreness from exercise can’t be completely avoided, but the old saying, “no pain, no gain,” is wrong, says the American College of Sports Medicine. Exercising while you’re in pain can damage your muscles and joints, making it harder to reach your fitness goals. You’ll recover faster and need less down time with a healthy lifestyle and exercise that works your muscles smarter, not harder.

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