Fit facts: Alleviating muscle soreness

Pain delay

Ever feel fine the day after a workout, only to be incredibly sore on the second day? Believe it or not, that second-day pain is your body's way of healing itself. Delayed onset muscle soreness -- DOMS -- is a by-product of the muscle building process, says researcher Priscilla Clarkson, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Strenuous exercise, she explains, creates minor tears in your muscles. In response, your body sends in a "repair crew" -- cells that fight inflammation, sweep the area of damage and initiate rebuilding. But the process often results in swelling and the release of chemicals that irritate nerve cells, causing the soreness that usually peaks 48 hours post-exercise.

Possible treatments to ease the pain include massage, stretching, ice therapy, over-the-counter pain relievers and nutritional supplements. One promising prevention is tart cherry juice. Researchers from the University of Vermont gave 14 students either tart cherry juice or a placebo twice a day for eight days. A tough workout was scheduled on the fourth day. Two weeks later the procedure was repeated with the treatments reversed. Strength loss and pain were significantly lower when the participants drank the cherry juice.

Saddle height: You be the judge

You, not a bike pro, may be the best person to determine how high your bicycle seat should be to maximize performance. A recent study at Eastern Michigan University found no difference in the oxygen costs or heart rate response between four popular saddle-height formulae and self-selection in both increasing-intensity and steady-state trials. Researchers suggest you position your bike saddle according to your own gauge of comfort and aerodynamics.

Losing sleep to exercise

Work out just before bedtime and you might find yourself counting a lot of sheep later. Research from Japan shows that when subjects completed a vigorous 40-minute treadmill run (80 percent max heart rate) an hour before lights out, they had more trouble falling asleep than on the nights when they undertook a moderate (60 percent max) run or did not exercise. Your best bet: Plan your intense workouts for earlier in the day, or lower the intensity of a workout closer to bedtime.

Did you know?

Nearly one in five women strength train twice a week, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Try this

Seated Iliotibial Band Stretch
Great for runners, this stretch helps loosen up the IT band, a thick group of fibers that runs along the outside of the thigh.

  • Sit with your legs folded comfortably in front of you.
  • Grab your right knee and foot, and pull your leg up toward your chest evenly with both hands.
  • To increase the amount of stretch, place your foot in the crook of your elbow and wrap your other arm around your knee.
  • Keep your back straight and gently rock your leg back and forth.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

Freelance writer Frank Claps is a certified strength and conditioning specialist who operates Fitness For Any Body, a personal training service in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania.

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