How do you treat sore muscles before and after a workout? Better yet, what can you do to prevent muscles from getting sore in the first place?

Before I could take the Field of Friendly Strife, I had to get the gear. I already had a softball glove that I had never used. That's right. It still had the tags on it, but at least I remembered I had one.

The next thing I needed was a pair of softball cleats. I used to have a pair of cleats that I used for years during various intramural seasons. I don't really know for what sport they were intended, but I used them for every sport I played outdoors. I used them heavily, I used them often, and I used them until I literally ran out of them.

So, without any cleats in my closet, I went to a local department store in search of a new pair of cleats. They had soccer and football cleats but nothing for softball. The department manager offered another store's location, but he told me not to go there at night. Hmmmm

I heeded his advice and waited to continue my search another day-under the protection of the sunlight because who knows where the werewolves are lurking in Mystic Falls. Like the average consumer, I resumed my search at a famous shoe store chain in the mall, but they specialize in running and basketball shoes-on to Modell's Sporting Goods where I would be hard pressed to walk out of there empty-handed.

They had a variety of models, so I was able to get a good pair at a reasonable price AND they offer military discount AND they signed us up for their MVP program, so I was able to get a 10% discount AND earn points towards future benefits.

Monday arrived and found me ready. I had the opportunity to put on my brand new cleats and work in my glove. I did my Insanity Cardio Abs before heading to the field because I hadn't done it yet, and that turned out to be a good decision because we didn't warm up as a group. Although we threw balls around, playing catch and fielding faux ground balls and pop ups, we were left to our own devices for preliminary calisthenics.

Practice went well. We have a great group of folks, and I think that will lead to some victories, yet the next day, I began to hear people talk about their muscle soreness. Softball is a sport, yet it also embeds a workout. This embedded workout lends itself to body soreness if you don't properly warm up. You need to warm up properly in order to take advantage of your muscles' full range of motion. You also need to cool down properly to correct post-exercise inflexibility yielded from improper body mechanics.

Flexibility implies that you are in control of your body as your muscles move through a full range of motion. More importantly, flexibility implies you are able to move your body safely in all three planes of motion.

What are planes of motion? Most people train their bodies to move back and forth. For example, we walk/run and do lunges, leg extensions/curls, and crunches in the sagittal plane. However, most injuries occur in the frontal (i.e., moving laterally and side to side) and transverse (i.e., twisting) planes. Some frontal plane exercises include shoulder presses, wide-grip lat pull downs, and hip abduction/adduction (i.e., away from/towards the body's midline, respectively). Wood chops, swinging a bat, and throwing a softball would be excellent examples of moving through the transverse plane.

Static, active, and dynamic stretching are ways to help the body maintain the proper length in muscle tissues before, during, and after exercise. Static stretching is your ticket to correcting muscle imbalances. During static stretches, relax your mind and body, slowly move your body into the stretch (i.e., to the point where you feel mild tension in the stretched muscle), and hold for a minimum of 20 seconds. Holding the stretch allows your body to react to the tension in the muscle by relaxing the fibers, allowing them to lengthen as appropriate.

While static stretches aid in correcting muscle imbalances, active stretching helps you increase the control you can exert over your body. The difference here is that instead of holding the stretch for 20 seconds, you do 5 to 10 repetitions of moving into the stretch, holding it for 2 seconds, and moving out of the maneuver. This method, along with dynamic stretching (e.g., prisoner squats), aids with your warm-up and cool down. So, wrap up your stretching routines with more dynamic moves such as swimmer hugs and swinging a bat to increase your functional efficiency.

Without proper attention to flexibility training, muscle imbalances will occur. Often times, these imbalances will manifest themselves as muscle soreness because the body treats the inflammation as an injury. Needless to say, the delayed onslaught of muscle soreness after our first practice encouraged our coach to ask me to remedy the situation by leading us all in a group warm-up session before and after our future practices and games.

Likewise, be sure to stretch before you engage in physical activity, listen to your body as you're engaging in that activity, and cool down to restore your body to a resting state. If you get a little overly excited during that game, don't panic. Simply take more time to stretch those tender spots in a static, active, and dynamic manner, as required.

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