Too sore to work out? Stiff, sore muscles can start to feel especially bothersome after an intense workout. Not to mention the achiness you feel from hours upon hours of travel, if you’re recovering from an injury, or if you’re just generally feeling under the weather. While rest is usually an excellent choice in many sore-muscle scenarios, some gentle movement can also aid the healing process — especially if that stiffness or soreness is coming from being sedentary (hello, cramped hip flexors!). This is also true if you’re menstruating and feeling crampy but want to get some circulation help.
“When your body is sore, it means that there is, among other physiological processes, inflammation in the tissues due to the intentional damage created by the workout,” says Elizabeth Campell, Ph.D., ATC, in Los Angeles, CA. “Inflammation is an important step in the repair of the tissues; this is how we grow stronger.” So although it hurts, it’s part of the process.
That doesn’t mean you need to suffer, though! There are a few types of movement that help soothe sore muscles. Ahead, our favorite ways to do just that: get a little movement and keep the body in motion, while healing some soreness (or, at the very least, not making it worse!).
Too Sore to Move? Here Are the Best Exercises For Relief
One of the best ways to promote recovery without making your soreness worse: a nice walk. “An easy walk will help move any fluids in your system to help circulation while preventing stagnation in the tissues,” says Dr. Campbell. If your soreness is also leaving you feeling stiff or stuck, this is an excellent choice to prevent your body from getting even stiffer, which may provide you with added relief. Keep it light and easy, no need to power walk, or walk a half marathon here!
Stretching is great at any point of the week, regardless of your workout schedule — but it’s also great when you’re feeling particularly sore. “To facilitate the movement of the lymphatic fluid throughout your tissues, I recommend gentle, slow flow-like movements or gentle stretching,” says Dr. Campbell.
Join the FitOn Stretch it Out Program for guided stretch classes to add to your routine. Give your body the love it deserves with this stretching program that will help you increase flexibility and move better.
Forget the power Vinyasa and opt for gentle, healing Yin yoga. “Slow, deliberate, mindful movement is a cornerstone of a Yin yoga practice,” says Sara Sas, RYT, L.Ac. in La Jolla, CA. “Where Yang is active, Yin is passive… you’re slowing things down. By holding postures for longer periods of time, combined with lots of deep breathing, you give the body a chance to rest and heal.” Many Yin practices also incorporate longer periods of rest, including meditative Savasana, which gives your mind and muscles a break while still allowing for some soft movement.
Sas does warn to not hold any postures that feel too deep or intense during a stretch, as this can make soreness worse. “Only work to a comfortable edge,” she says. “Stretch until you feel ‘challenged yet successful’ … it’s a fine line between stretch and strain, so be mindful!”
Mobility Work + Myofascial Release
Sometimes those sore muscles are indicators that you need TLC in specific areas; this is where mobility work and myofascial release (think: foam rolling, targeted massage) comes in.
Foam rolling and myofascial release with the assistance of tools can help take stretching recovery to the next level; it helps target what Dr. Campbell pointed out — inflammation.
But Know When to Take a Rest Day!
While movement can offer some major benefits, sometimes it’s best to just rest. “It’s important to remember that strength training has a systemic analgesic effect,” says Dr. Campbell, which means “You may notice that working out when you are sore results in a temporary decrease in soreness.” Be forewarned, though, that this is “Not necessarily the best thing for your body and its repair cycles. The goal is to work with your nervous system to facilitate its ability to manage the healing process.”
Remember to listen to your body and tune into any cues! If you feel like some movement can help circulate stagnant blood flow, try going for a walk or rolling out your mat for a yin yoga flow. But, if you’re too sore to move, maybe you just stretch it out and give your body some TLC. Instead, try an Epsom salt bath, or maybe just embrace your day off and give yourself the time to rest and recover!