Always Sore After a Kickboxing Class?

Are you always sore after a kickboxing workout?

I want to do a follow up on a previous article I wrote, and I guess maybe this one should have actually come first. So often a major barrier to getting started in a kickboxing program is the discouragement of soreness after your previous kickboxing workout. You want to jump in every day, but the first workout has you feeling like you got hit by a truck, and it takes a week to get back in. Sound familiar? Hey, we’ve all been there, especially when we first started working out.

The last article was on what to do if you are going into a kickboxing workout, but you’re still sore from the last one. Do you take an extra day for rest, or do you power through it? Well, I discussed training kickboxing through soreness in length there, so check it out if you haven’t already, but not until you hear me out on this one. I’ve gotten a lot of questions since the last article, so today we’re going to talk about how to reduce muscle soreness, so that you’ve maximized recovery, and soreness is minimized going into the next workout.

The key word in the above statement is recovery, and there are many factors that can go into muscle soreness. And the simple fact is, if you’re not recovering properly, then you’re not getting the most out of your kickboxing workouts going into the next class.

I want to clarify something before going any further: I am NOT talking about injuries. Injuries are the result in specific damage to tissues, and training with an injury requires specific care. If you decide to train through an injury, you need to make sure that you’re not making it worse. God knows, I’ve got my fair share of injuries, but rushing back in halfcocked will only lead to prolonging injury recovery and potentially making it worse. But that’s a different topic altogether. The point is, this article does NOT apply to getting banged up by your sparring partner, doing some rolling and getting your arm wrenched in a Kimura. Those are injuries, not soreness, and they require much more careful recovery.

I’m referring to general muscle soreness. Now how do you differentiate between the two? First, you want to identify that the pain is coming from the muscle and not the joint or connective tissues. If you’re feeling it deep within the joint, or the pain feels like it’s sharp, tearing, or stabbing, then you’re not just sore. You’re likely injured and should see a doctor for assessment. The soreness that you should expect after a workout comes from the muscles. And you can identify it with a couple simple tests. One, try to contract the muscle to its shortest range of motion. This means shortening it or flexing it as hard as you can. If you find yourself weaker or it starts to burn much more quickly than normal, it’s probably muscle soreness. Conversely, if you try to lengthen, or stretch, the muscle through your normal range of motion, and you feel a tightness or burning, that’s normal muscle soreness. Again, if you feel something sharp or it’s closer to the joints, you could have tendon or ligament damage, which can take some time to recover.

So what do you do about soreness from your kickboxing workouts?

Now that you know whether you’re injured or just sore, how do you reduce or eliminate that? Well, to be honest, the best things to do to reduce soreness should be done BEFORE the workout. By taking these steps leading into your workout, you can reduce the soreness before it even starts. But these factors will benefit post-workout recovery as well so reduce soreness after your kickboxing workout, even if you didn’t take the proper steps before.

Reducing kickboxing soreness with Nutrition

Make sure you’re properly fueled going into your workout. Muscle soreness actually is a result of rebuilding your muscles after you’ve broken them down during the kickboxing workout. This often happens when your body runs out of the proper fuel and starts to break down muscle instead. So you really need to have a good amount of nutrients in your blood to give you the energy to get through your workout with peak performance. Whether you’re eating a high quality meal prior to your workout or drinking a pre-workout shake, making sure you’re going into your kickboxing session with high energy will not only allow for a killer workout, but better recovery.

Likewise, post-workout nutrition is equally as important. As soon as the workout ends, your body goes into recovery mode. This is when your body is absolutely craving protein and carbs to rebuild and refuel. Be careful what you put in your system though, as taking in the wrong foods can do more harm than good, and dampen the effect of your workout. My friends at Prograde Nutrition have put together a more comprehensive report on post-workout nutrition. Check that out here. Nutrition should always be a key component of any training regimen, but it plays an especially important factor in recovery from your workouts, and can really help to reduce soreness after a kickboxing class. Likewise, a post-workout shake or meal are ideal for boosting recovery, reducing soreness, and maximizing the effectiveness of your workout.

Not to mention that there are extensive studies showing various nutrients that can reduce inflammation including vitamin D, Magnesium, antioxidants, and spices like cinnamon and capsaicin.

Rest and Recovery to reduce Kickboxing Soreness

This is a highly underrated step in any training program, but due to the intense nature of kickboxing, you really need to have this in place. Let me ask you this: How many hours of sleep do you get each night? If you’re like me in my early 20’s, it’s probably not much. I worked in bars until 2-3 in the morning, maybe went out after my shift, and got MAYBE 5-6 hours of sleep before getting in for my 11 AM kickboxing class. Well think about this. If you’re exhausted going into your workout, what will the intensity be like? Even if you’re not dragging ass through the workout, your body will not like you for it. You’re essentially going out for a bike ride on a flat tire. You may get where you need to go, but your rims will be trashed when you get there, and it’s gonna be an unpleasant and unnecessary grind.

Muscle soreness is a bi-product of the recovery process. Here’s a big kicker for you: Your body doesn’t grow when you’re working out. Your body grows when it’s recovering. What you do when you go into your kickboxing class, is you’re traumatizing your body. You are literally tearing and shredding your muscle fibers a tiny bit at a time with each kick, punch, and rep. You’re giving your body an experience that it does not want, and does not want to experience again. So how does your body respond? It builds back bigger and stronger. But it isn’t an immediate process. Your body needs time to grow, and most growth occurs during sleep. So you need to allow your body the proper time to rest and build back up. It’s not uncommon to need up to 10 hours of sleep after a tough workout. But you need QUALITY sleep, and here’s a fantastic tip on sleep quality: get to bed earlier. No shit, right? Well some studies have shown that every hour of sleep before midnight results in higher quality sleep. So try to set a bed time and stick to it.

Recovery Exercises to Help Soreness after Kickboxing

Ok, so this is going to take a little more conscious effort, and it may be a little unpleasant and uncomfortable when you first start this. But it’s going to be well worth it not just for recovery, but overall workout performance, so bear with me. We covered above that soreness from kickboxing workouts is the result of breaking down muscle and building it back up. Believe it or not, that soreness phase is your muscle rapidly trying to rebuild itself. However, the rebuilt muscle mass is often shorter and tighter than before, which you know if you are walking like a stiff-legged mummy the day or two after your kickboxing class. Also, sometimes your body creates scar tissue or adhesions between the muscle fibers that can restrict movement. It’s almost like cement between bricks holding them together, making it completely rigid. If you’re building a house, this is great! It doesn’t have to move. It shouldn’t move! But to have a free-moving body, especially for martial arts and kickboxing training, you need to be light, loose and free. This means that you need to dedicate some time to mobility training.  My coach Eric Wong refers to this in his 3D Hip Flexibility Solution as “releasing the brakes” on your body.

You may be thinking that you just need to do some deep stretching, and that’s a great starting point, don’t get me wrong. But you really need some dynamic mobility, meaning getting into and out of a wide range of motion with conscious effort. That means movement, muscle activation, and exploration. There are a number of different ways to go about this, but an example would be doing a forward lunge while stretching out the hip flexors, quads, and abs of the back leg. So you’re building strength and flexibility at the same time. Other methods would be adding resistance when at the end of a stretch. An example of this would be having a partner help you with a lying 1-leg hamstring stretch but pushing back at the end range of motion. This helps to active more muscle groups and fibers that may have been shut off due to the soreness and inactivation.

Another technique is self-myofascial release. As I mentioned above, you develop adhesions between the muscle fibers. SMR helps to break up the junk that builds up. One of the more common methods for this is foam rolling. This is growing in popularity, and is essentially self-massage to help break up the stuff that’s build up in your muscles causing soreness. Now I’ll be frank, if you’re new to foam rolling, and you’re really sore from last night’s workout, this is going to be pretty painful at first. You’re aggravating muscle that’s already angry at you. It’s best to do some rolling immediately before the workout, and later as a cooldown, or at the end of the night, before bed.

If you give in to the tightness and soreness after kickboxing workouts, you will slowly lose your range of motion, meaning you won’t be able to kick as high or move as quickly and freely. This also means you won’t be able to activate muscle fibers at that wider range of motion. Let’s use a traditional powerlifting move as an example: The Squat. If you’re doing squats, but can’t get your thighs parallel to the ground, then you’re not doing nearly as much work, not tapping into the muscle fibers at fuller extension, and losing a TON of the exercise benefit. What if you could go deeper? Then you start recruiting glutes and hamstrings to stabilize at the bottom of the motion. So the wider range of motion allows you to recruit not only more muscle fibers, but more muscle groups. So what does this mean for kickboxing? Well imagine trying to muscle up your leg using just your hip flexors, which are typically one of the weakest muscle groups in the body. You’re not going to generate as much power because you’re not using all the appropriate muscle groups to the maximum potential. Click here for a system to increase your hip flexibility. 

Other tips to reduce soreness after a kickboxing workout

I’ll finish off with a few quick tips to help you speed up the recovery process.

  1. Ice – This will dull pain and reduce inflammation allowing you to recover more quickly
  2. Heat – It sounds kinda contradictive, I know. But adding a heating pad, or soaking in a nice hot bath or a hot tub can help to increase blood flow and reduce tension from the muscles. With an injury (which microtrauma causing muscle soreness TECHNICALLY is) it’s often recommended to alternate between 20 minute cold and 20 minutes hot.
  3. Natural Muscle relaxers – Chamomile tea, lavender oil in an Epsom bath, Cayenne pepper, and a number of other herbs have anti-inflammatory properties to help you recover.
  4. Ointments – Use these sparingly as they can cause skin irritation, but Salonpas, Bengay, Tiger Balm are all effective at temporarily relaxing the muscle as topical treatment.
  5. OTC pain relievers – Also use these sparingly as they can build up in the liver and cause issues in the stomach. Also be careful about mixing them. Check with a doctor or pharmacist to see what combinations are effective and safe. Ibuprofen, Aleve, Aspirin, etc. can all help to reduce the pain. NSAID’s are also effective in reducing inflammation which can grant you some mobility back.

Well, this has been a long and by no means exhaustive post, but hopefully you got something positive out of it. Leave a comment and let me know what worked best for you.