This is the year! You’re going to get in shape, and you’re off to a running start! And the next day, ow, ow, you can hardly walk, and the stairs might as well be a fortress wall. It’s probably just benign soreness — common after doing a particularly tough workout or doing unfamiliar exercises. DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) can be relieved with some light activity, like stretching or walking, and resolves on its own within a couple of days, but it is confidence-sapping and unpleasant, and if you don’t have a lot of experience with exercise, it can feel very worrisome.
This is a small example of “too much, too soon,” which can cause serious injury in those who “push through the pain.” There are a lot of messages floating around — that exercise is unpleasant, you should “leave everything on the gym floor,” and hurting the next day is how you know you got a good workout. None of this is necessarily true, although experienced exercisers may work to balance their gym days with off days so that they can go all-out in the gym, knowing that they have a rest plan in place to recover properly.
If you are new to exercise, your body has lots of room to grow in ability and conditioning. You will you benefit from lower-intensity work — and you’ll enjoy it more and build a better foundation. Start with activity you can easily do more frequently, because that will make it easier to recover with a good (protein-rich) meal and a good night’s sleep.
Here are some alternatives to just tiring yourself out:
— Concentrate on good form for any new movements you try.
— Practice new exercises more slowly (or with lighter weight) than you are capable of. After you have learned the form, this is also a good way to warm up before your heavier work.
— Prepare for your gym visits with a plan, and consider “homework” like reading about ways to structure a workout (such as repetition ranges or fast/slower intervals), or reviewing videos about good form.
— Ask gym staff for help — most gyms have staff who can instruct you in equipment use, and many have trainers who can answer questions about free weights, too.
— Consider a session with a trainer to get careful instruction and a workout regimen to start with. Be sure to ask how to know when to progress. For example, you may start with one weight, doing 5 reps for three sets, adding reps at the next workout, and so on until you can do 10 reps, and then adding enough weight that you can only do 5 reps again, and repeat the cycle. Consider a follow-up session in a month or so to check progress and make adjustments.
— Don’t worry too much about “the perfect workout.” Just form a good, regular habit, and try to learn a little more about what you enjoy or give yourself mini goals (“I will try a new class.” “I will learn a new exercise.”) that you can achieve within a matter of a week or so.
Regular exercise makes life better in many ways — better health, better sleep, better mood. Give yourself the gift of an exercise habit you can stick with.