That my buddy was shuffling along as if he were the oldest member of the old folks' home was no surprise. After all, he had used his three-day weekend to ride 225 rather hilly miles, and it was only Wednesday.
But my buddy wasn't in need of a walker because of the distance or intensity of the rides, he explained to me. After each, he had followed my formula to facilitate recovery, and by the end of work on Tuesday, he felt fine.
That's why he decided to weed his rather extensive yard that night. To do so, he normally straps the five-gallon canister on his back, walks around, and sprays. But the sprayer was on the fritz, so he did it the old-fashioned way.
He dropped to his knees and pulled the weeds by hand.
After an hour or so, that position bothered his knees, so he stood and stooped to pull the rest.
When he finished about two hours later, his back ached worse than it had in years, his hamstrings and glutes were so knotted he could barely lift his legs and the undersides of his knee caps felt as if someone had taken a metal file to them.
"This is sad," he said as he shuffled along.
"No," I said, "it makes perfect sense. When was the last time you weeded by hand like that?"
"It's been, like, 10 years."
"And I bet you didn't stretch in the shower or elevate your legs afterwards or worry about eating a snack loaded with complex carbohydrates immediately afterwards or get extra rest."
"That's what you had me do after the rides."
Maybe you're not planning to ride 225 miles over your next three-day weekend, but you probably have some housework or yard work that you do only in the fall, so my buddy's extreme discomfort could easily become yours unless you do what needs to be done to expedite muscle recovery.
Please take note of the use of "extreme." The following prescription is not designed to eliminate all muscle soreness but to mitigate the worst of it whether you plan on squatting more weight than ever before or scrubbing every hard wood floor in your house. Muscle soreness can never be totally avoided or should it for it is simply the result of exceeding your normal bounds.
But muscle soreness doesn't need to be extreme or even debilitating, especially if you make recovery a priority by doing the following.
Warm up to the task at hand
Depending on your age or the types of gym teachers and coaches you had, you may associate warming up muscles with stretching. That's a mistake.
The most recent studies find little benefit to stretching before an activity; in fact, some studies have found ambitious or ballistic stretching counterproductive enough to inhibit performance.
Whether you're at a health club or in your back yard, all a warm-up needs to do is increase your core temperature and loosen the muscles primarily engaged in the activity.
Weightlifters, for instance, can accomplish this by doing an initial set with a weight so light that performing 25 reps is no problem. Someone raking leaves can accomplish the same simply by walking briskly beforehand and making sure the first movements with the rake are easy and done with a reduced range of motion.
Refuel your body afterwards
While two hours of raking the leaves may not expend as many calories as two hours in the gym, eating meals and snacks of primarily complex carbohydrates and protein still helps. They restore the energy in your muscle cells quicker than simple carbs and fat.
Additionally, intense work and workouts compromise your immune system to some degree, and complex carbs help your immune system work optimally.
Stretch in the shower
After exercise or hard work is the best time to stretch. Not only are your muscles already warm and more pliant, but stretching at this time also helps remove the waste products in the muscle tissue created by the hard work waste that's somewhat responsible for the next day's soreness.
The warm, humid environment in the shower further increases your ability to stretch and provides a logical time and place to perform an activity that you might otherwise skip or forget.
Elevate your legs
Similar in effect to stretching, elevating your legs is a great way to improve blood flow and circulation which aids in muscle recovery. Although any elevation helps, the most notable effect occurs when you create a 90-degree angle at the hips by propping your legs against a wall.
Do this after a really ambitious trail run, for instance, and you'll be able to feel the waste products draining downward. Twenty minutes of elevation is all you need, and if you happen to nod off as a result, that helps with what's listed next.
Get extra rest
Americans tend to be so macho when it comes rest. They see it as weakness.
After any sort of hard effort, however, proper rest allows the body time to rebuild. Without it, the body weakens.
It's not uncommon for elite-level athletes to sleep nine or 10 hours a night. While that's probably impractical for you, you should make it a priority to get at least eight hours of sleep after an effort that creates more than the normal amount of muscle soreness.