Trail Running for Beginners: A Runner’s Guide to Getting Started

Bored with running? Liven things up by trading the pavement for the trail. Trail running has grown in popularity in the recent years, and for good reason. Not only is trail running more forgiving on your body than your typical road run, it also burns more calories, improves your balance and strengthens your core. Trail running for beginners is not as complicated as it may seem, although there are a few things you should know before making the transition.

Getting Started: Know the Basics

What are some of the differences you can expect when you start trail running? For starters, there’s less impact on your body. Running on harder surfaces, like sidewalks and treadmills, applies more force to your body, which can lead to injuries. The dirt, gravel or grass found on trails offers a softer surface for less impact on your joints.

Don’t expect to hit any personal records during your first few trail runs. Trail running forces you to constantly adapt and move side-to-side to navigate around rocks, tree limbs and other obstacles. Expect your pace to be as much as 20 percent slower when you first begin running trails, according to Runner’s World. Forget your usual pace and just enjoy yourself.

You’ll also need to adapt your stride in order to keep your feet under you. Shortening your stride keeps your body weight over your feet, allowing you to quickly react to obstacles without losing your balance.

It’s important to scan the ground several feet in front of you as you run to help prevent trips and falls. When you see something in your path, do what you can to step over it rather than on it. Rocks and roots are often slippery, especially when wet.

Learn more about getting fit.*

Getting Started: Get The Gear

Before you hit the trail, you will need a few pieces of gear to make the most of your run. This includes:

  • Clothing: You can run in the same thing you wear when you run now, but make sure to choose items you don’t mind getting wet or muddy.
  • Shoes:  If you’re going to run trails regularly though, you’ll want to invest in trail-running shoes. These trainers protect your feet better than road shoes by offering a thicker sole and increased stability on uneven terrain.
  • Hydration: If you run with a favorite water bottle or hydration pack, you can use the same one. Just don’t forget it because there aren’t water fountains along most trails!
  • Insect repellent: You might not need to ward off mosquitoes and ticks while you’re running on the roads, but the Tennessee woods are full of blood-sucking bugs, so it’s best to be prepared.

Getting Started: Find Your Way

From local to state to national military parks, Tennessee offers a ton of places to go for a trail run.

The Nashville area alone has more than 190 miles of trails, ranging from paved greenway trails to wooded trails along cliffs overlooking Percy Priest Lake. Knoxville runners can enjoy the Knoxville Urban Wilderness Corridor and other local off-road runs, but don’t overlook the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park or Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Chattanooga boasts more than 150 miles of trails along the Tennessee River within a quick drive from downtown, offering plenty of opportunities for trail runners of all skill and fitness levels. The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy in Memphis boasts 4,500 acres of both paved and unpaved trails.

For help finding a trail near you, visit the American Trail Running Association’s free directory.

Leah Newman is a freelance writer with particular interest in health and wellness, law, and personal finance. Her background is in journalism, and includes several years as a staff writer and editor at a daily newspaper. She has previously worked at the YMCA of Middle Tennessee, YMCA Camp Widjiwagan and Atlanta Motor Speedway. Leah lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Most outdoor activities have some level of risk, and you may need to consult an expert before engaging in the activity. Always check the current weather conditions before embarking on any outdoor activity.

3 Secrets to Sticking with Your Fitness Routine

Let’s face it: trying to fit in a daily workout routine in between juggling work, taking care of the house and driving the kids to and from their extracurricular activities can be challenging. For many of us there just aren’t enough hours in the day and a much-needed workout falls to the bottom of the priority list.

The truth is it’s important to make time for you, even if it’s just 30 minutes per day to participate in some form of physical activity. Try one of these three strategies to help you recommit to regular exercise.

Get Motivated

One of the best ways to get motivated is to be aware of the health benefits of engaging in daily physical activity. Regular exercise can help:

  • Reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Heart disease and stroke are among the leading causes of death in the United States. Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day can reduce your chances of heart disease or stroke by lowering your blood pressure and improving your cholesterol levels.
  • Reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three American adults could be diagnosed with diabetes by 2050. By regulating your blood sugar and metabolism, exercise is one of the most effective methods to combat developing diabetes.
  • Increase your energy. A good workout improves heart and lung function, which allows oxygen and nutrients to be more adequately delivered throughout your body.
  • Promote a more restful sleep. Exercising not only helps you fall asleep faster, but also causes you to fall into a deeper sleep.
  • Improve your mood. Physical activity stimulates chemicals in your body that help you feel happier and decrease stress.

If the health benefits aren’t convincing enough, try working out with a friend so that you can hold each other accountable. Set goals and then share them with one another so you can encourage each other to stick to your workout routine.

Learn more about getting fit.*

Try Something New

Sometimes boredom with your workout routine can challenge your motivation to exercise regularly. Remember, it’s important that you engage in various forms of physical activity to ensure that your whole body benefits from your workout. The key is to find two or three forms of physical activity that you enjoy doing that can help improve your strength, flexibility, stability, mobility and cardiovascular health.

If you typically run on a treadmill or elliptical at home, why not try running outdoors or joining a group run? For those of you that can’t make it out of the house, yoga, Pilates and dance cardio can help add variety to your at-home workout routine.

Monitor Your Progress

Once you’ve recommitted to daily physical activity, monitoring your progress can help you stay on track towards achieving your fitness goals. A great way to monitor the impact of your daily workout is to invest in a fitness device that can help you track your daily steps, heart rate and sleep pattern.

Another option to consider is keeping a daily fitness log. Every day, jot down how long you exercised, what physical activities you participated in, how you felt during and after the workout, and the progress you made towards your goals. At the end of the day, there is no better motivation than to look back on all of the progress you have made.

Still don’t think you have enough time to fit a workout into your schedule? Check out our four tips for staying active during the workday.

How do you keep yourself on track? Let us know your tips for staying active below!

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

4 Simple Ways to Stay Active During the Workday

With so much of today’s business happening online, we spend a lot of time sitting at our computers. If you find yourself regularly feeling sluggish at work, sitting for extended periods of time could be the problem.

Whether you work from home or in an office, there are many ways to incorporate exercise into your workday without breaking a sweat. Try one of these four ways to get moving while working.

Stability

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three people over age 65 fall each year. This is primarily due to decreased stability as a result of aging. As we age, our muscles, ligaments and tendons become tighter, shorter and weaker resulting in decreased balance. Factors like stress can cause these signs of aging to progress more quickly.

Balance training is key to improving stability and slowing the effects of aging. If your work allows it, increase activity by adding a balance disc to your desk chair. These inflatable cushions are a discreet and effective way to strengthen your core, which improves both balance and posture. While standing, improve your stability by practicing simple heel raises and one leg balance training.

Mobility

Like stability, age also affects mobility. To combat declining mobility, a good stretch is a great place to start. Stretching during the workday, or any time you’re sitting for an extended period of time, is crucial to improving long-term mobility. At minimum, you should stretch every few hours and hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. The more often you stretch, the better.

Although all stretches are beneficial, some stretches are especially necessary depending on your profession. For more sedentary jobs, focus on stretching your hamstrings, forearms, hip flexors, neck, chest and abdomen. People with more active jobs should focus on stretching your quads, calves, upper back, lower back and seat.

The benefits of regular stretching include improved muscle conditioning, better posture, decreased muscle and joint pain and increased oxygen to the brain. To help you get started, the Mayo Clinic offers a useful guide to basic stretches.
 

Learn more about workplace wellness.*

Cardio

As an effective way to strengthen your heart, lungs and circulatory system, cardiovascular activity, or cardio, is a key component of a healthy lifestyle. Cardio exercise refers to any movement that increases your heart rate over an extended period of time. Some of the most common types of cardio include running, swimming and biking. However, there are many ways to incorporate a cardio workout into your day without leaving the office.

Cardio can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or marching in place while on a conference call—anything that gets your heart pumping. Research has shown that physical activity actually increases workplace productivity. When feasible, conduct meetings while walking outside or around the building instead of seated in a conference room. For additional motivation to get moving, use a fitness device to track activity during the workday.

Strength

Muscle strength directly affects our ability to independently perform life’s everyday activities, like lifting children or climbing stairs. Inactivity and aging are two factors that decrease muscle strength and make these everyday activities more difficult. Resistance training is a type of exercise that strengthens muscles using opposing force and is perfect for the workplace because it doesn’t require a lot of space or equipment to be effective.

In fact, many movements you make every day such as pushing, pulling, squatting and twisting require resistance. Chair dips, squats and lunges are three simple exercises that strengthen muscles using only the weight of your body. With all of these resistance exercises, you can easily increase the difficulty by increasing the number of repetitions.

 

How do you stay active during the workday? Let us know in a comment!

 

IRONMAN Training for Beginners

Even if you aren’t in triathlon shape, there’s no shame in trying something new. A half-triathlon is fun and challenging without being overwhelming — and the Chattanooga 70.3 Ironman is a great place to start. It’s not until May 22, 2016, but first-time participants are preparing right now. Here’s what you should know before putting together your beginner IRONMAN training plan.

The Right Gear

If it’s your first race, you shouldn’t spend tons of money on top-of-the-line gear. For now, you only need the basics. The opening swim calls for a thin, snug swimsuit, goggles and swim cap. Make sure they all hug your body somewhat; you want to cut through the water as smoothly as you can.

For bicycling, you’ll naturally need a bike (a road bike is best, but any bike will do) and a helmet. You could ride in the outfit you swam in, but you may also stash a mesh t-shirt and cycling shorts with your bicycle. Consider taking your bike to a local shop for a tuneup before you start riding. Be sure to invest in a portable tire pump and spare tube to tackle flat tires on the road, as well.

Running comes last. Choose clothes and socks made of mesh-based wicking material, and a comfortable pair of running sneakers. Because you’ll be lacing up after your swim, pick shoes that are breathable and quick-drying. Mesh uppers, instead of leather, are a must.

If you’re unsure about which brands or products are right for you, consider asking these questions at your local sporting goods shop. There, the pros can help pick out the gear that’ll meet your needs without overselling you on equipment you don’t need just yet.

A Training Schedule

A triathlon consists of swimming, bicycling and running, so your training should prepare you for all three. IRONMAN recommends a breakdown that looks something like this:

  • 20 percent swimming.
  • 50 percent bicycling.
  • 30 percent running.

You should strive for an equal number of weekly swimming, running and bicycling sessions, but the length of each workout should depend on the amount of time it takes up during the triathlon. So, swim workouts should be the shortest, bicycle workouts should be the longest and runs should fall somewhere in between.

Fueling the Healthy Way

Make whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables the mainstays of your diet. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, resist the temptation to cut back on your calories at first. You need the energy to get through your training, and the workouts alone might be enough to help you start burning fat. Keep in mind muscle weighs more than fat, so your bathroom scale may confuse you at first.

If you need extra fuel before your workout, try a small mix of complex carbohydrates and protein — like a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter. And if you’re exercising for more than one hour at a time, keep a small bite on hand (like a handful of dried fruit) for a quick boost of energy.

Lastly, remember to stay hydrated. Mayo Clinic generally recommends up to an extra two cups of water for workouts that last a full hour, though you may need more if you’re exercising for longer.

How to Avoid Injuries

Most aspiring triathletes who get hurt during training develop injuries from pushing themselves too hard. Before starting or ending your workout, take the time to warm up and cool down. And remember to work rest days into your training schedule; they’ll give your body more time to recover so you can come back stronger for your next session.

Marygrace Taylor is is an award-winning health, wellness, and nutrition writer whose work has appeared in Glamour, Redbook, Prevention, and Women’s Health. You can follow her on Twitter @mgtylr, or at marygracetaylor.com.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Five Ways to Encourage Your Child to Exercise

It’s not hard to get little kids to run and climb at the playground. But can you instill a love of physical fitness that sticks after they’ve outgrown the monkey bars?

Once middle school starts, children exercise less. They may lack an adult role model, stay busy with extracurricular activities or think they’re just not good at sports. But exercise is extremely important for kids’ health and development.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children should get an hour of exercise every day. Why? Because physical activity:

  • Builds strong muscles and bones
  • Manages weight
  • Lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Improves sleep
  • Builds self-esteem
  • Increases motivation at school

How can you ensure your children get in a healthy workout?

Make It Fun

If you want your child to enjoy exercise and ultimately stick with it, you need to make it enjoyable. Some children are drawn to team sports like basketball, football or soccer, while others may take a liking to individual programs like track, tennis or ballet.

It’s important to respect your child’s interest so you don’t unintentionally discourage physical activity. Pushing your child to compete in a sport that doesn’t interest him or her can cause frustration or boredom. By the same token, don’t set unrealistic performance expectations. Let your child know that getting exercise and having fun is more important than winning.

Keep It Interesting

Kids can exercise without realizing they’re being physically active — if they can focus on other things. Provided it’s safe, allow them to bike or walk to school or a friend’s house. Turn on their favorite music and hold a dance-off in the living room.

Play a classic game of tag, kick the can or ghost in the graveyard to get aerobic exercise without concentrating on the exercise itself. Skateboarding, rock climbing, ice or roller skating, jumping on a trampoline and bowling are also good options for physical activity that don’t focus on the required effort.

Get Friends Involved

They say friends are the biggest influence in a child’s life. In fact, Time reports that kids are more likely to exercise when accompanied by supportive, encouraging companions. Children work out more willingly and get past the typical excuses when they’re having fun with other kids who enjoy the same thing.

Seek Out After-School Programs

Organized clubs and school programs offer students the chance to experience a sport like running or swimming. Programs such as Girls on the Run and Fit Kids America encourage physical fitness through interactive sessions with trained instructors, and the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs offer after-school fitness programs.

Feel the Burn Together

Modeling behavior is a great way to make sure children exercise, so bring them along with you. Take a yoga class together, go for a jog or take a bike ride as a family. You’ll value the time together, and you’ll set a good example for your child to follow as he or she grows up.

Above all, have fun! Allowing for spontaneous play doesn’t just avoid burnout on organized sports; it keeps everyone engaged in an activity that might just create a personal passion later in life.

Have tips on keeping kids physically active? Share them below!

A former newspaper journalist, Chelsea Adams is a freelance writer specializing in health, wellness and lifestyles topics. A native Tennessean, she makes her home in Kansas with her husband and two daughters. Learn more about her transition from the mountains to the prairie at http://wichitawesome.blogspot.com.

Six Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Run

Every day, millions of people lace up their sneakers and head out for a run. Whether you’re a new runner or have been pounding the pavement for years, here are six ways to make your run safer, more effective and more enjoyable.

Time It Right

Different days may work better for different types of runs. Plan to tackle longer distances on days you have more time, particularly weekends or situations where you can arrange for childcare. When you’re busy, try to fit in a quick 20-minute sprinting session instead.

Get Fueled

Eat a small, healthy snack like a banana, yogurt or half a peanut butter sandwich no less than an hour before your workout for an energy boost that won’t slow you down. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you plan to run for more than an hour, carry extra fuel to keep your energy up. Snacks like raisins, dates or pretzels offer fast-acting carbohydrates that are easy on your stomach.

Warm Up

No matter how fast or long you plan to run, warming up helps get your heart ready for the exercise and reduces your risk for injury. Before you start running or sprinting, jog or walk briskly for 5 to 10 minutes. Consider doing dynamic stretches like lunges and squats to further warm up your body.

Stay Hydrated

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends drinking 1/2 to 1 cup of water for every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise. The longer the run, the more water you’ll need to bring with you. If you plan to run for more than an hour, consider sipping on coconut water or a sports drink, which can stave off dehydration while replacing the electrolytes lost through sweat.

Stretch at the Finish Line

Contrary to what you might have learned in gym class, the best time to stretch is at the end of your workout, after your muscles are already warm. By taking the time to stretch all your major muscle groups, you’ll improve your range of motion, increase circulation and ultimately boost your performance on future runs.

Vary Your Routine

Mix up your runs with long, steady efforts and short, powerful interval training. Long runs can help you slash more calories, build muscle, and increase your endurance. If you want to increase your speed and fitness, do an interval run, a workout that alternates between bursts of speed and rest periods.

Let us know if you have any additional tips to make running easier or more enjoyable!

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Try Rock Climbing This Fall

Looking to challenge your body and take in the beauty of nature at the same time? Try rock climbing, one of the nation’s fastest growing sports. You don’t have to go far to find a great spot.

What to look for

When considering locations, you’ll want to know the difference between traditional lines, sport routes and bouldering. Traditional lines use ropes and harnesses, and you place your own anchors in the rock as you climb. This style emphasizes adventure and a little risk-taking — perfect for self-sufficient outdoors people.

Sport routes, on the other hand, already have permanent anchors or bolts in the rock (generously placed by previous climbers), so you don’t need to hammer them in yourself. The fun here pushes you to practice your strength and endurance, along with your reflexes and flexibility on the rock face. You’ll still wear a harness and carry rope, but you don’t need as much equipment for these types of climbs.

Bouldering doesn’t use any ropes or harnesses; climbers ascend and descend without that safety aid, though these climbing routes should be fairly low to the ground with a friend to spot you, according to Outdoor Knoxville.

Where to climb

Some favorite routes to go rock climbing in Tennessee are at the Obed Wild and Scenic River area near Wartburg. Located in the Cumberland Plateau, this area is popular for its numerous crags, overhangs and hard rocks.

The park has routes for all skill levels. The Lilly Bridge Buttress is a great place to start with its shorter climbs and a swimming hole nearby for a relaxing rinse-off between sessions. For bouldering, try Lilly Boulder Field, which accommodates a variety of skill levels.

To learn more about the Obed Wild and Scenic River area, head to the Vistor’s Center at 208 North Maiden Street in downtown Wartburg, Tennessee or visit their website.

The Obed and Clear Creek area outside of Knoxville has a number of sport routes, all with fun names like Born on the 4th of July, Tarantella, Solstice and Maximum Overdrive. Here, you can expect hard sandstone and sedimentary layers — good for climbing all year. The Mountain Project says this ranks as some of the top Southeast sport climbing, with a number of bolts, anchors and other climbing-friendly features waiting for you in the rock.

Closer to the Chattanooga area, try Sunset Rock at Lookout Mountain. This route has 80-foot cliffs and a flat top to relax once you’ve ascended. Located nearby is Stone Fort, one of the locations for the Triple Crown Bouldering competition. This popular bouldering destination with big rocks has routes for all climbing levels.



Just starting out?

If you’re just starting to hone your skill, indoor rock-climbing and bouldering facilities are great ways to learn the ropes. There are facilities in the Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and Chattanooga areas. Check out this list by Indoor Climbing for more locations. Instructors can teach you proper technique in a more controlled environment before you try the real thing. Safety and education are especially important in climbing.

Rock climbing is a great way to stay in shape, build muscle tone and endurance. So scale new heights and see the world from a whole new view!

Have you ever been rock climbing? Have a favorite spot? Tell us about your experience!

Most outdoor activities have some level of risk, and you may need to consult an expert before engaging in the activity. Always check the current weather conditions before embarking on any outdoor activity.

How to Start Yoga

Many people want to know how to start yoga when they are looking for a more relaxing, gentle form of exercise. But if practiced incorrectly, you can get hurt in your very first class.

Yoga improves strength, balance, flexibility and an increased sense of well-being. It can even improve certain bone and joint conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and arthritis, but only when practiced in moderation.

Anyone with severe osteoporosis, high or low blood pressure, inner ear problems, known degenerative problems or pregnancy is at a greater risk for injury if they don’t mind their personal limitations, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

Here are three ways to ensure you get all of the gain with none of the pain:

Stretch Slowly

The most common yoga injuries are caused by over-stretching your neck, shoulders, spine, legs and knees. The AAOS warns that weak or sore spots are more prone to tears in muscles, tendons and ligaments if you practice yoga postures incorrectly or push them too far. Even if you are flexible, fit and participate in other sports, yoga poses and postures (called “asanas”) are new to your body.

So instead of bringing a stretch to its limit, start small until you know how your body reacts. In yoga, according to AZCentral, the motto is, “no pain, no pain.” Beginners should start slow and first practice the basics of yoga breathing (called “pranayama”) instead of trying to pose perfectly the moment they start.

Find out about BlueCross member discounts on fitness, from Tai chi to yoga.*

Modify Your Pose

There is a lot of joint movement in yoga and much of it is weight-bearing; these can feel unfamiliar while learning the postures. Most yoga instructors have been practicing yoga for years, so don’t feel pressured to perform each pose the way they do. In fact, yoga instructors usually teach different ways to modify the poses or use props to protect major joints. Try these modifications first before moving ahead, in order to protect common weak spots in your neck, shoulders, back, hips, wrists and knees.

Pick the Perfect Class for You

If you are still wondering how to start yoga, take several beginner classes to see which type of yoga suits you best and which instructor matches your fitness needs. Choose a studio with a low student-to-teacher ratio so you can be sure the instructor can correct your posture and implement modifications as you learn the poses.

When choosing a teacher, ask how your teacher trained, what his or her certification is and whether they study it daily. Be aware there is no national certification program for teaching and each organization has its own standards, although most yoga certifications are sanctioned by the Yoga Alliance. From your very first class, you’ll notice practicing yoga is very “self”-centered. You’re concentrating on your own breathing patterns and performing your own postures, so don’t feel insecure about how you look. Instead, concentrate on how you feel.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Five Ways to Kick Up Your Workout Routine

Are you feeling bored with your workout program or have you hit a plateau where you’re not feeling stronger or you can’t break through a weight loss barrier? If so, it may be time to change up your workout routine.

Longstanding research from the University of Florida found that people who varied their workouts every two weeks over an eight-week period enjoyed their workouts more and stuck with them longer than those who performed the same workouts week after week. Many studies have also shown that your body’s physiological systems generally adapt to an exercise program within about six to eight weeks, which is why you hit plateaus.

If you want to keep increasing your overall fitness, here are five ways to kick your workout routines up a notch.

Boost the Intensity

Regardless of how you work out, you can always push yourself a little harder or faster. If you jog, vary your route to include more inclines and increase your speed. Try interval training by adding a short burst of a more intense activity followed by a short phase of that activity at a slower pace.

Instead of running at the same pace for your entire workout, alternate between sprinting and walking. This boosts your fitness faster because it challenges both your body’s aerobic system (for long bouts of exercise) and anaerobic system (for short, hard bursts of energy).

Cross-Train

Many people drop exercise programs as soon as they get bored or injured, but cross-training is a safe and easy way to avoid both. Add different activities to your workout routine – like swimming, tennis or biking – to work different large muscle groups. If you work out at a gym, use all the different cardio machines instead of the same one every time. If you always go to one specific workout class each week, switch it up and get out of your comfort zone by trying a new one.

Change Your Routine

By training your muscles in a different order or pattern, you force them to adapt and become stronger. There are many ways to do this. Change the order of your exercises, the number of repetitions per set, the number of sets, or the amount of resistance you use. You can even vary the amount of rest between exercise sets or workouts.

Switch Up Your Social Environment

If you normally work out alone, join a group or class. You’ll benefit from the camaraderie of the class and the feedback from the instructor, and you may make some new friends. If you normally only take exercise classes, try a solitary activity and challenge yourself to do something on your own.

Try Something Completely New

If there is a class or activity you’ve always wanted to try, switch up your workout to learn something new and use different muscle groups. Multifaceted exercise activities, such as tai chi, qigong and yoga focus on balance, coordination, agility, flexibility and body awareness as well as mind relaxation. Or, if you like intense workouts, try high-energy kickboxing or boot camps. Learn more about how more moms are incorporate martial arts into their workout routine.

Check out your gym’s class catalog or your local newspaper’s events and activities section to see what’s new in your area. Even a small change in your routine can lead to big results.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Good Sore vs. Bad Sore: How to Tell the Difference

There is a lot of truth to the phrase, “No pain, no gain.” Feeling a little bit of soreness after exercising is normal and, believe it or not, usually a sign that your muscles are getting stronger. But not every post-workout ache is positive. Here’s how to compare good sore vs. bad sore, and how you can expect to recover from both.

What ‘Good Sore’ Feels Like

When you exercise, the physical stress placed on your body causes inflammation and tiny muscle tissue tears that lead to a type of soreness called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

This creates a blunt discomfort or burning sensation that affects both sides of your body equally, like both quadriceps after a hard run or both biceps after a session of arm curls. DOMS usually develops within a couple of days after being active and is completely normal. In fact, as the tiny tears heal, your muscles grow back even stronger.

DOMS affects new exercisers and seasoned athletes alike. And fortunately, there are steps you can take to soothe your discomfort. Cooling down at the end of your workout, for instance, can get rid of the soreness-causing lactic acid that builds up in your muscles during exercise. Applying ice to these areas can help minimize swelling, as well.

Lastly, consider working different muscle groups next time so you can give your tired muscles a rest. Although DOMS might leave you feeling sluggish, you should still be able to exercise comfortably the next day, even if you need to take it easy.

What ‘Bad Sore’ Feels Like

Overly strenuous workouts can stress your muscles too much, leading to more intense inflammation coupled with tenderness, sharp pain and even swelling that’s visible with the naked eye.

Whereas “good” soreness goes away in a day or two — and might feel better with mild exercise, like walking or swimming — the same physical activity often makes “bad” soreness feel worse. And unlike “good” soreness, which typically affects both the left and right muscle, “bad” soreness tends to be unilateral, meaning it only affects one side of the body. This can indicate a specific injury, according to Shape, like a sprained ankle or shoulder.

Cases of severe soreness can even be managed with rest, ice and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. However, soreness that doesn’t go away or gets worse over time could be a sign of a more serious injury, like a torn ligament or a stress fracture. Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests calling your doctor if:

  • Your pain doesn’t go away with rest.
  • Your pain is constant or gets worse instead of better.
  • Your pain starts affecting everyday activities like walking or climbing steps.
  • You need increasing amounts of medication to relieve your pain.
  • Your pain wakes you up at night.
  • You develop numbness, tingling or loss of motion.

Remember, even if your soreness is mild, you shouldn’t ignore it. By taking time to treat even minor aches and pains, you can identify good sore vs. bad sore right when you get out of bed, bounce back from exercise faster and tackle your next workout sooner.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.