You just crushed your workout. Everything felt great, you were moving really well, and everything just seemed to click. You go about your day and when you wake up the next morning, you can barely get out of bed. It’s happened again. DOMS, or delayed muscle soreness. Muscle soreness after a workout is completely normal especially when you are starting a new training program or routine but it’s a pain (pun intended). Everything is so much harder to do and you could potentially be in so much pain that you skip your workout for the day altogether. This, my friends, isn’t the best idea.
This is actually the reason why being sore shouldn’t be a badge of honor. How many times have you heard that being sore means you had a good workout? I know that is how I felt before my trainer told me that I don’t have to be sore to see results. In fact, no muscle soreness after a workout is perfectly fine and in my opinion, the better option. I know when I am not sore, I am much more likely to stick to my workout plan.
I still get muscle soreness from time to time, especially after a high rep day. It isn’t a typical occurrence though and I love it. It makes going about life so much easier.
Being sore after a workout doesn’t necessarily mean that you had the best workout of your life or even just a great workout.
Let’s talk about the different types of muscle soreness focusing on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and ways to ease and prevent muscle soreness after a workout.
If you sign up for my email list, you can get your hands on my FREE workout planner. I’ve created a workout planner for you so you can make sure you aren’t doing two leg workouts in a row to help prevent DOMS.
There’s one for 3, 4, or 5 days of workouts. It’s blank so you can add the exercises you enjoy to your planner. As an example, I do a 5-day split; two upper-body days, two lower-body days, and a cardio day.
Different Types of muscle soreness
If you’ve workout before, I’m sure you’re aware of DOMS but there are three types of muscle soreness: DOMS, acute muscle soreness, and injury.
Acute muscle soreness is that burning sensation you feel during your workouts or training session. You know that burning feeling in your shoulders when you’re pressing dumbbells over your head or your quads burning during lunges? This is acute muscle soreness and this typically goes away as soon as you’re done the movement or shortly afterward.
Injury is when you hurt your muscle or part of your body during your workout. From a muscle perspective, this is when you tear or overstretch it to the point that rest and possibly medical attention are required for it to heal. This is also known as a muscle strain.
To tell the difference between muscle soreness and an actual injury is typically by determining where the pain is occurring. An injury would be a pain in a very specific spot while muscle soreness is more generalized. If it has been more than three days and it’s not feeling better, you probably injured yourself.
If you think you injured yourself, I would go seek medical attention right away. It’s better safe than sorry.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
The last but certainly not least type is DOMS. DOMS occurs due to small tears to your muscle fibers during a workout. It usually develops as quickly as 6 hours after you finish your workout. Progressively getting worse until 72 hours afterward. It takes a while for the soreness to start because some of the metabolic and physiological processes take time to register as muscle pain. After three days though, you should begin to feel better.
The good news is that this is the process that occurs when you’re building muscle. However, it is important to note that you don’t need to experience muscle soreness to build muscle. DOMS typically occurs during the eccentric (when you lower the weight) because this is where you are creating those tears. The eccentric phase is when your muscles work the hardest. It puts more strain on the muscle when the force is being applied while the muscle is lengthening.
Muscle soreness typically happens when you are doing new movements or you increase the amount of volume. Contrary to popular belief, DOMS is not caused by lactic acid. This leaves your muscles about an hour after you completed your workout.
Easing the pain of sore muscles
Sometimes muscle soreness after a workout is unavoidable. Or you’re sitting there, trying to figure out HOW to get rid of this pain and I’m just blabbing on about how it happens.
Unfortunately, time is the best cure for DOMS but there are some ways to ease the pain and make walking around a little easier.
1. Light Movement
I know it’s SUPER tempting to lie on the couch all day when it hurts to move but this is just going to make your sore muscles worse! I know, I wish it wasn’t so as well. It’s important to get the blood flowing when your muscles are tight and sore so you need to move around.
If you get the blood circulating with a walk or some stretching, experts have said that this could reduce DOMS and speed up your recovery time. Please note that it should be light stretching only, you shouldn’t be stretching to the point that the pain increases.
Here is a yoga-inspired routine from Cosmopolitan Magazine that could help relieve some of your muscle soreness.
Basically, you want to focus on movements that are going to feel good to you. Just make sure you do move around to help loosen up those muscles and get everything moving.
2. Drink Some Water
Staying hydrated is so important in so many aspects of your life so of course, it will also help with muscle soreness. Water will flush out waste products which helps muscle soreness because muscles produce toxins and waste products when they tear.
3. Heat or Ice may help
The effects are temporary but if you have really bad DOMS, you might want to give applying heat or ice to the sore areas a try.
- Ice reduces swelling
- Heat can help release tension in the muscles
Epsom Salts can also be added to a bath to help ease the DOMS. This salt can help the effects of a hot bath last longer due to the magnesium.
4. Sleep and a proper diet
I really wish that a burger and some fries would make my muscles feel better but unfortunately, it doesn’t. If you are sleeping enough and eating well, your body can recover and be provided with the nutrients needed to repair your muscles. Eating anti-inflammatory food such as ginger, watermelon, pineapple or cherry juice may be beneficial in aiding to relieve muscle soreness. So at least there are some yummy foods that can help.
It also helps if you have sufficient protein in your diet to aid in the process of repairing your muscles. so maybe a burger will help a little :).
Preventing muscle soreness
Now instead of putting a band-aid over the problem, here are my tips to avoid getting DOMS altogether. Or at least, reduce the likelihood of not being able to move.
Since remember, you do not need to experience muscle soreness to see results. The only time I experience muscle soreness nowadays is from high repetitions or a completely new movement. I tried bench pressing for the first time last week and man I felt sore in my chest. I was still able to work out the next day though. That’s the most important part since staying consistent is how you see results.
1. Decrease Volume
If you’re doing three sets of each movement, switch to only two sets until you get stronger or more advance in the movement. You can also cut back on how many days a week you’re working out. I would aim to exercise at least three times a week though.
When I started a strength training program, I backed down to two sets of everything instead of three. When I started with three sets, I was sore all the time and it wasn’t any fun.
Whatever you do, I suggest easing into a new workout program. I know it is tempting to go full force but if you’re sore all the time and it’s a struggle to walk up and down the stairs, you’re going to lose motivation. Who wants to be sore all the time? That is no fun.
On top of that, if you’re too sore and can’t work out, then you aren’t going to be consistent which is super important if you want to see results.
2. Use a foam roller to improve blood flow and release tension in your muscles
Form rolling has gotten increasingly more popular. It is basically a tool to give yourself a massage so no wonder! You can use a foam roller before your workout to help warm up your muscles, after your workout, or in general to release some tension in your muscles.
I just recently got a foam roller and it’s a little awkward at first but once you get use to it and figure out how to hit the right spots, it’s great. Here’s a good article from Anytime Fitness on how to use a foam roller.
The technical term for using a foam roller on your muscles is myofascial release. The Fascia is the thin tissue that connects our muscles. This can easily get scrunched up or tight especially if you sit at a desk all day or from the effects of muscle soreness after a workout.
You get to control how much pressure you are applying to the muscles depending on how much of your body weight you put on the muscle you are rolling. If you are new to foam rolling, going lighter on your muscles is better which is one of the reasons foam rolling is challenging in the beginning, at least from my experience. It a little challenging holding yourself up and applying juuuust the right amount of pressure.
You can think about it kind of like a deep tissue massage vs. a normal less pressured one. You don’t want it to be super painful while you are foam rolling but you most likely will encounter some tender areas. If you find a tender area, give this area a little extra attention and you should feel the tightness release. Again, this is meant to relieve pain so if it’s getting worse, you should definitely stop.
3. Warm-up with Dynamic Stretches
Dynamic stretching is when you go through the full range of the movement. You aren’t going to hold a position. The point of performing dynamic stretches during your warm-up is so you can activate the muscles you are going to use. For example, if you are going to do dumbbell walking lunges during your routine, you should do some bodyweight lunges in your warm-up.
This is a good way to get your body and your mind ready for what you are about to do. Professional athletes don’t just jump right into the game and you shouldn’t either. Your body needs some time to get the muscles warm and flexible. Dynamic stretching can also improve your range of motion and also increase flexibility.
4. Cool-down with Static Stretching
I’ll admit that I’m not the best with cooling down after a workout since I’m running back to work but it is something I should prioritize. It can make a huge difference in how sore your muscles are after a workout and the effects of DOMS. It is also a good way to increase flexibility since your muscles are already warm and a good way to prevent injury since it will lower your chances of being tight.
Static strengthing is when you hold the position for a period of time. You can check out some static stretching movements from Healthline here.
5. Know your limits
Here is a story from one of my training sessions last week. I put way too much weight on the barbell for Romanian Deadlifts. Technically, I was able to complete the movement but my form was bad and it was just a struggle all around. After the set, I felt a little defeated since I thought that weight wasn’t going to be too difficult. I also felt some pain in my lower back which meant that I wasn’t doing the movement quite right which is a reason why people get muscle soreness. In this case, I wasn’t using the ideal muscles to lift that weight.
I repeat training sessions so I can get stronger over time but when I repeated the Romanian deadlifts, I dropped the weight on the bar by THIRTY pounds. That’s right, that was a lot of weight. But you know what happened? My form was a whole lot better and I felt more confident in my abilities to do this movement successfully. My back also didn’t hurt and I didn’t experience muscle soreness after the workout.
In a way, I did get stronger from that second round because I regained confident in my abilities and I improved my form.
You need to know when to give yourself an ego check and accept the fact that you need to drop weight. As I mentioned in my lessons on strength training, progress isn’t linear. Some days you are going to be stronger than others. Some days you’re just going to overestimate the amount of weight you can lift. That’s okay as long as you can accept the fact that you need to pull back and focus on form. Dropping weight absolutely does not mean you failed or you’re doing something wrong. It’s just part of the process.
Form above all else!
If you lift too heavy, you are either going to give yourself muscle soreness or worst, injure yourself. Just remember it isn’t a race so trust the process and start conservative when you are doing a new movement or something you haven’t done in a while. If you are following a consistent training schedule then you will be able to come back stronger and try again with my confidence because you’ve already done it.
Muscle soreness is a pain but it is just a part of the process
Even though we shouldn’t be walking around proclaiming we have sore muscles like some kind of badge of honor, experiencing muscle soreness is completely normal. Even the most veteran lifters, swimmers, or runners experience muscle soreness from time to time.
As long as you keep moving and focus on recovery, the effects of DOMS will go away after a few days and you will be back, stronger than ever. Even if you do experience an injury since it can happen, make sure you prioritize rest so you can get back to your workout routine in no time.
Following the above tips to relieve muscle soreness after a workout and ways to prevent it should help you build a stronger and more resilient body. Let me know in the comments below how you relieve your sore muscles or what you do after a workout to prevent muscle soreness in the first place.
Until next time,