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If you feel like you can't lift your arm to open the door or soap up your hair, you may have overdone your chest, biceps and triceps workout. Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, occurs within the 24 to 48 hours post exercise, especially if you've tried new moves or added greater amounts of weight. DOMS dissappears within about 96 hours and is a normal adaptation to training. It can inhibit daily function and subsequent training sessions until it resolves, however, so you want to take measures to minimize and relieve it.
Your chest, biceps and triceps are sore because during your lifting session you participated in eccentric, or lengthening, contractions. These contractions occur when you extend the arms upward in a chest press, for example, or move a barbell away from your chest during biceps curls. The eccentric phase is effective in building strength and mass, but it also leads to the formation of waste products as the muscles break down. Your immune system kicks in to repair the breaks and rid your body of the waste products - increasing blood flow to the area and stimulating a sensation of soreness.
The day after your workout you might try moving your upper body through simple stretches to stimulate blood flow. A gentle yoga class that includes shoulder and upper-body stretches such as Cobra pose and Cow Face pose can help target the triceps and chest. Schedule a sports massage to help the metabolic waste move through your system more quickly. Applying ice to your arms or soaking in an ice-cold bath may help reduce inflammation and give a sensation of relief. Alternatively, a warm Epsom salt bath can send magnesium and sulfates directly to worked muscles, easing pain. Taking over-the-counter pain medications can relieve soreness for some people, but be wary of potential negative effects on your blood pressure and digestive tract.
Preventing acute soreness in your upper body is the best tactic. Warm up sufficiently before lifting to help your muscles more efficiently process breakdown and waste materials. Lifting 20 to 30 percent of your target weight, and doing arm circles and short sets of pushups are ways to prepare the chest, biceps and triceps for heavier lifts. Avoid sudden increases in the frequency or volume of your lifting sessions. The American Council on Exercise suggests increasing weight by only 5 to 10 percent when progressing. If you are adding more sets or additional days of lifting, do so gradually rather than moving from, say, two days of training to four per week all at once.
Distinguishing between muscle soreness and strain is essential. You can continue to train on sore muscles, but if you have experienced a true injury, you risk doing long-term damage. If your muscle soreness does not resolve with palliative treatments or persists past 96 hours, you should seek the guidance of a health care provider.