A week ago, I visited my best friend, Francesca, in Memphis, where she was running 40 miles to celebrate her imminent fortieth birthday. Struck by one of those ideas that seem to pop into the mind fully formed during a long run, she planned her own do-it-yourself event in a park outside town and invited some friends to join her for a lap or two around the lake. Several of us did one, two, or three of the 10-mile laps, while Francesca gamely did all four and felt good enough to drive when we went out for pizza and beer that evening.
In the week since, I’ve been struck by the difference in how my legs feel after running 30 joyous miles focused on my friend versus running a race of 50K or shorter. Instead of the don’t-touch-my-thighs soreness typical after hard races, I felt fine in my muscles—oddly, even better than usual. (It helps that Memphis is pretty flat.) There is, though, the fatigue of spending all day on my feet, apart from a few hours in which I ate junk food and propped my legs up on the back seat of Francesca’s car as she ran lap 3. This is compounded by the demands of air travel and getting back into the swing of family and work life after spending a girls’ weekend away.
As I ponder the distinction between soreness and fatigue and the different circumstances that cause them, I’m considering how soreness and fatigue put different demands on our yoga practice. Here’s my advice on how to cope.
Post-exercise soreness, the kind you feel after your first hard workout of the training cycle, changing your weightlifting routine, or trying a new yoga class, is a consequence of microtrauma to the soft tissues (muscles, fascia, tendons, and ligaments). Muscle soreness caused by intense exercise often peaks two days after the workout that caused it, then fades, and it can improve with light exercise. As long as your soreness doesn’t cause you to hobble or to alter your movement patterns in a way that could damage another area, exercise and yoga practice can improve the soreness and shouldn’t worsen it. A gentle but flowing practice can help you feel better.
Fatigue is a result of cumulative stress on your body—from training volume, from your yoga practice, from not sleeping or resting enough, or from any of life’s stressors. When you find yourself in a state of fatigue, take extra care in your yoga practice. If you push yourself, you can dig a bigger hole of fatigue, affecting your performance and your safety. When we are fatigued, we are prone to sloppiness; avoid acute injury by being careful on the mat. Rest often and don’t work too far toward the edges of flexibility or strength. A gentle, low-to-the ground practice suits you when you are fatigued.
Soreness and Fatigue
After a peak event—be it a marathon, a century ride, sending a new route, or even spending a weekend intensively learning a new sport—we carry both short-term soreness and longer-term fatigue. When you find yourself in such a situation, treat yourself with extra kindness. This can be easier said than done, as we are often inspired by our joy in the accomplishment and overeager to rush back into more activity, or, alternatively, disappointed and eager to begin the next training cycle to “fix” things and redeem ourselves.
Resist the urge to resume training or a vigorous yoga practice too quickly. Time is your friend here, as rest gives your body the chance to repair the muscle damage that causes soreness and to recover from the fatigue you carried over the training cycle. Choose relaxing breath exercises, restorative yoga, and guided meditation that helps you unwind and process the work you’ve done.
Applied wisely, your yoga practice makes a wonderful complement to your training and active pursuits. Be sure you honor both soreness and fatigue so you can rest up to your best potential.