Suffering from sore muscles the day after a heavy gym session?
Did you find getting out of bed was tough this morning? You did have leg day a couple days ago at the gym, right?
But showering this morning was hard too. You dropped the bar of soap and there was no way you were going to pick that up. That can stay there until tomorrow.
Maybe today you’ll take the elevator because those stairs sound like torture.
Sounds like someone has a case of DOMS.
No, this is not a disease you need to get checked out.
This is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. This is that stiff, sore feeling after doing a strenuous workout and it plagues everybody.
And it’s the worst. It takes you from feeling strong and on top of the world, having just conquered those last few sets of the heavy weights…
…to being a snivelling toddler who has trouble sitting down on the toilet.
DOMS isn’t just a beginner’s affliction. Even seasoned athletes get cases of extreme muscle soreness the day after. Many even experience DOMS up to 72 hours after the workout was completed, which could leave you confused about why your arms are too sore to shampoo your own head.
While DOMS is a real thing, it doesn’t have to be a real downer. You work through the muscle aches and learn to master it.
We want to give you all the info about sore muscles, dish all the good “goss” about DOMS. We’ll teach you the science behind it, how to prevent it, and how to work through that annoying muscle pain after a workout.
What is DOMS?
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is a general term that describes that stiff you feel after a workout. Runners experience DOMS. Weightlifters get DOMS, and even yoga practitioners can experience DOMS.
It’s not restricted to a single body part either. You can get sore muscles in your arms, your quads, your hamstrings, your biceps, your abs, and your shoulders.
It’s just that anything lower body does tend to affect your daily life, so we tend to remember the muscle aches there more. But as long as your body has gone through some unexpected, unfamiliar, or particularly intense training, it can experience delayed onset muscle soreness anywhere.
Among the gym-rats, it’s believed that DOMS is a good thing, that you’re well on your way to getting “ripped” and “swole”.
Is it though?
What we do understand is that extreme muscle soreness is probably a sign that you worked hard. We know that if you were doing exercises that required the lengthening portion of your muscle to work, you are more likely to experience it.
That pain is your benefit for working hard.
Seems unfair, right?
But although it might not mean you’re on your way to getting jacked, it does mean you’ve put your body through some stress. Delayed muscle soreness can actually be your friend.
Causes of Muscle Soreness
As it turns out, we’re not entirely sure if the link between DOMS and progress exists.
Here’s what we do know.
We know our bodies produce a substance called lactate.
Why does it do this?
During rigorous exercise, our muscles need oxygen. Oxygen breaks down glucose into energy that our muscles use to work harder. To compensate for that need, our heart rate soars and our breathing intensifies. Our muscles are screaming out, “more oxygen! send now!”
All natural responses to the need for increased oxygen.
However, during really hard exercising, your body can’t get enough oxygen, so it starts to produce lactate. This lactate can convert into energy without the need for oxygen. But the body can produce too much and you get a build-up of lactate, or lactic acid as you might know. And you get a lot of it.
You probably already know what it feels like to have lactic acid building up in your body. You get cramped, you start to feel nauseous or maybe some stomach pain. This is lactic acidosis.
Why am I telling you this?
Because 20 years, we though lactic acidosis was the cause of DOMS. All that lactic acid was still in your bloodstream and its effects are what you feel the next day.
We know now that DOMS is actually a sign of the microtraumas, the little tears and rips in the tissue, of your muscle fibres. Those microtraumas trigger the body’s response to rebuild and renew your muscle tissue.
That’s what you’re training for. You’re training to build bigger and stronger muscles. So, although DOMS isn’t a sign that you’re succeeding, it is a sign that your body is responding normally to the exercise you’re putting it through.
Call it “Progress”. That’s good enough for now.
How to Reduce DOMS After a Workout
I hear what you’re thinking:
Does that mean I HAVE to feel this way every time?
No. No, you don’t have to suffer. In fact, you’ll probably notice DOMS at its worst when you first try out an exercise that your body isn’t familiar with.
Maintaining a rhythm and a training regime is one of the best ways to reduce DOMS. As your fitness levels increase, you’ll see a reduction in the pain you’ll feel the following day.
But that lack of pain means that you aren’t inducing enough microtraumas to trigger your body to rebuild the muscles again. So you’re in this vicious loop that leaves you wondering where it all ends.
Are you doomed? Will you ever be free from this pain?
Ok, hang on, drama queen. Let’s talk about a few ways you can reduce the effect of DOMS after your workout. There are techniques to learn how to reduce DOMS after a workout.
Prevention is the best cure. And this prevention should be done both before and after your workout.
Stretch the muscles you plan on working that day, making sure you do a good lengthening stretch right after your workout. It should be part of your warm up and cool down routines.
Even though you’re stretching before you even complete the workout, you’ll notice a difference in how your body reacts after the workout is complete.
As a guide and a good prevention for extreme pain, run yourself a bath, get a good book, light a candle and pour in some Epsom Salts.
Epsom Salts are loaded with magnesium, this incredible mineral that is renowned for “osmosis” into your muscles and widening your blood vessels. Those blood vessels can bring faster relief to the pain and relieve the swelling and inflammation for your tired tissues.
If you’re looking for how to reduce DOMS in legs or lower body, this is a key solution right here.
Looking to prevent serious pain? You need a serious prevention method.
This is serious.
Sit in an ice bath for as long as your body can stand it. Cold water reduces that swelling. Many professional athletes swear by it to come back after a gruelling match the next day feeling fresh and ready to go again.
This is real recovery for sore muscles and the experts all seem to agree that even severe DOMS can be offset with a simple ice bath.
If you can’t spring for a massage every time you work out (and who among us can?), then we can’t recommend a foam roller enough. It triggers the best recovery for sore muscles: blood.
Foam rollers use your own body’s weight to trigger blood flow to key parts of your body. Run it over your recently exercised muscles to release tension and get the blood flowing.
We’d recommend a product like ResultSport’s Foam Roller. It’s compact enough to take anywhere and it is ribbed for your pleasure. No innuendo intended. The nodules on the roller provide pressure points to alleviate the pain of DOMS even before it can set in. It’s an excellent prevention technique that, again, many athletes swear by.
Food can be your friend here. Give yourself a good nutritional base and your body has the nutrients it needs to rebuild quicker. In order to learn how to reduce DOMS pain, you need to learn to eat well.
Foods like steak, sweet potato and spinach are excellent recovery foods. They hit you quickly with essential anti-oxidants and protein-building amino acids to repair your tired muscles.
Exercising With DOMS
But sometimes, as much prevention as you can try to manage, you will have to work through the pain.
Maybe the thought of lifting one more barbell gives you physical grief, but we promise this:
You can still workout effectively while going through the delayed muscle soreness.
How do you exercise through DOMS?
Work Different Muscle Groups
No good coach would recommend that you do the same strenuous routine the day after you completed it. Most good workout routines focus on one area of the body before moving on to another area the next day, allowing the muscles from day one to rest and some time to recover.
As a guide, we like to favour a routine called PPL. It stands for Push, Pull and Legs. Each day, you focus on one of those movements. Day one will be pushing, or moving things away from your body. This includes triceps extensions, bench press, shoulder press and lateral raises.
Day two would be pulling or moving things towards your body. Bicep curls, rows, cable fly and pull-ups are included.
Day three would be legs. Squats, leg presses, calf raises, leg curls…you get the idea.
The benefit of this is that if you’re experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness in your legs, the next day you’re not even using your legs. Or if you’re biceps are sore, the next day you’ll be working on triceps and shoulders. Different muscle groups that aren’t sore or stiff.
This is the DOMS workout prevention plan.
Do Recovery Training
But if you’ve done some gruelling leg work, you might not be able to think of even walking up the stairs to the gym.
We feel you.
But the best way to work through DOMS is to keep moving.
Use this time of muscle soreness to do some light cardio, alternating the stress on your muscles to focus on overall heart and lung health.
Swim a few laps in the pool. Do some light jogging on the treadmill. Even low impact cardio like the elliptical machine can help you keep that blood moving.
It’s also a good idea to alternate the types of exercise you’re doing so your body doesn’t become accustomed to one type of exercise. Light cardio is a good change up from heavy lifting and extreme exercises and a good recovery for sore muscles.
No matter what type of regime you’re working, you should include a recovery day. We recommend yoga as a good recovery technique.
It’s stretching. It’s difficult. It works your muscles without causing pain. And it improves your health and balance. If you don’t want to have an off day, yoga is the perfect cool down activity for your body.
Supplements for Recovery and Soreness
Besides these techniques, we have found that supplements can aid with your recovery times. They can also prevent DOMS from lasting longer than it should.
These are our top picks for supplements for muscle recovery and soreness.
Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein Powder
There are two types of protein powder your body can use to rebuild torn tissue from micro-traumas: casein and whey.
Whey is the fastest acting protein, targeting sore and depleted muscles and providing them with a quick release of the amino acids to rebuild and renew your muscle fibres.
It comes in delicious flavours as well, this one being a rich double chocolate, making it easy to remember to take right after your workout.
We can’t steer you past protein as the best thing for muscle recovery. DOMS recovery and pain relief start and end with your body’s ability to repair those micro-traumas.
Regal Wonders Omega 3 6 9
Because you’re dealing with muscle inflammation, anything high in fatty acids will reduce that inflammation.
Instead of trying to eat a complete meal, we’ve found this convenient fatty acid supplement that gives you Omega 3,6, and 9 acids to counteract the effect of muscle soreness and inflammation.
Fatty acids are one of the key supplements for sore muscles, and it’s much more convenient taking it in pill form than trying to eat the right types of fish.
Iron Labs Nutrition L-Carnitine
A mainstay in nutritional experts is the use of carnitine to aid in protein synthesis, which in turn aids with DOMS relief.
After your muscles experience microtraumas, your body rushes to repair those tissues using proteins. To aid in that synthesis of proteins, L-Carnitine speeds up the whole process. Simply put, those who try this, swear by its effects especially after gruelling sets of intense reps and weights.
DOMS can really be hard on your body. You don’t feel like doing anything the next day except groaning in bed, wondering if life really is worth living anymore.
We don’t want delayed onset muscle soreness to put you back in your training.
Don’t just accept the pain. Deal with it. Prevent it. Work through it. Reduce it.
There are steps you can take. You can do this.