Chances are, if you work out regularly, you are fairly used to those muscle aches that you get in the days following a hard workout. You might notice that you hurt more, and the pain is more intense when you try something new, work a different part of your body, move differently, or push yourself harder than usual. These aches are what we call DOMS.
Sometimes, DOMS is so severe that you’ll wake up in the night, your muscles hurting from having rolled over in bed. You might struggle to lower yourself into a chair without wincing, and the idea of lifting your arms above your head might be unbearable. For many, DOMS is a part of life and even something that we welcome. When we ache like this, what we’re doing is working, our bodies are getting stronger, and we’ll soon start to see the results. You might be more upset if you don’t ache at all in the days after a session and feel like you haven’t done enough.
But, while in many ways DOMS are welcome, that doesn’t mean that they are pleasant. Here we’ll look in more detail at what DOMS is, why you get it, and what you can do to make the day following a new work out a little easier on your aching body.
DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, isn’t the aches we get while pushing our bodies to the max. They aren’t the pains you get while you are lifting heavy or pushing past the wall in a long run when your legs are screaming at you to stop.
Delayed onset muscle soreness is the pain that comes afterward. Often the morning after, but sometimes onset is up to 72 hours after your workout.
We often experience more severe DOMS when we’ve worked a new part of our body or tried a brand-new exercise. The pain is usually most intense at onset, before gradually improving over the next few days.
If you have DOMS, you might notice pain, cramps, swelling, muscle fatigue, a reduced range of motion, stiffness, and even temporary weakness. Don’t worry, it doesn’t last, and once it passes, you will be stronger, fitter, and healthier.
Why Do We Get DOMS?
When we make our muscles work harder than they are used to or in a different way, we cause microscopic damage to those muscles’ fibers. Like tiny tears in the muscle. Your body responds to this damage by increasing inflammation to aid repairs. It’s actually the repairs process that hurts, not the tears themselves, which is why DOMS occurs the day after exercise, not immediately.
Should You Work Out When You Are Sore?
Whether you work out when you are sore depends on the situation. There’s no hard answer here.
If you are training for an event or pushing for a specific goal, you might not want to take days off to recover completely, but what you do will depend on which muscles hurt, how severe your pain is, and your individual training programs.
If you’ve had a heavy leg day and are experiencing DOMS in your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, you might want to avoid working them too hard for at least a day. Instead, push gently with a light walk or swim, or enjoy an arm day, to spread the load.
If your DOMS is relatively minor, you might decide to carry on, but listen to your body, don’t push too hard, and take breaks when you need to.
Of course, when you are very sore, even normal daily life can be challenging, so let’s look at some of the things you can do to reduce DOMS or make it more manageable.
Never Neglect Your Warmups and Cool Downs
Warming up before you exercise loosens your muscles and warms them up. This prepares them for exercise and reduces the risks of them getting damaged during exercise. Even a five-minute brisk walk and some stretches will help.
Then, when you’ve finished, don’t just hit the shower and get on with your day. First, take the time to cool down. Cooling down gives your heart rate and body temperature a chance to slowly return to normal while letting your muscles contract and return to their normal length and position with increased blood flow. This means they’ll have an easier time repairing.
Work on Your Whole Body
Most of us have got exercises that we enjoy more than others or parts of our body that we want to tone up more. That’s normal. But, if you focus all of your efforts on that one area or exercise, you won’t ever achieve high fitness levels, and every time you do anything even slightly different, the DOMS will be intense.
Work your whole body, developing overall fitness and stamina, and using all of your muscle groups, and even when you do change things up, the DOMS won’t be too intense.
Develop Core Strength
We often experience DOMS in our abs. This is because we use our cores in most exercises, even when we don’t target them specifically. A stronger core improves your balance and makes most exercises easier. But, remember, your core isn’t all about your abs. You should also spend time practicing the 10 of the best lower back exercises for excellent core strength and balance.
Know Your Limits
Perhaps the most frequent cause of the kind of extreme DOMS that makes it hard to walk and lasts for five days is overdoing it.
Most of us have been guilty of pushing our bodies too hard, ignoring the warning signs, and going for longer than we should. This is when we really hurt afterward.
While we all want to build fitness quickly, and few gym goers are patient when it comes to seeing results, building up gradually is always a better idea. It means that you don’t hurt as much, you don’t need to take as long off, and you don’t risk injury.
Know your limits. Listen to your body, take breaks when you need to, and stop when you can’t take anymore.
Move on Rest Days
While you may not want a hard workout while you are sore, and rest days are undoubtedly important to aid recovery and build fitness, that doesn’t mean that you should sit still all day.
You might want to lie in bed all day if you ache a lot, but this will lead to extended stiffness and further pain. Going for a gentle walk, a swim, or practicing a light yoga routine can all aid recovery, reduce stiffness, and help you to feel more normal. Massaging sore muscles can also boost circulation and speed up recovery.
Anti-inflammatories and other over the counter pain relief can help reduce pain and be especially useful if you are working or need to be somewhere on a rest day. Pain relief patches and gels can also be effective. Don’t suffer if you don’t need to.
Have a Good Soak
A soak in a warm (not hot, that could make things worse) bath can boost circulation, reduce inflammation, and gently soothe your aching muscles.
You can also add Epsom salts to your water to aid muscle regeneration. Dissolved Epsom salts break down into sulfate and magnesium, which regenerate muscles and flush out lactic acid. But if using Epsom salt, don’t soak for longer than 15 minutes.
Eating plenty of protein in the hours after you exercise will boost recovery and decrease pains. Get some Omega 3 from oily fish and eat plenty of fruit and veg to give your body the nutrients and energy needed to recover too.
If you are in pain in the days after your workout, eat foods high in anti-inflammatory properties like strawberries, honey, almonds, and leafy green vegetables to reduce swelling and discomfort.
Don’t Stop Hydrating When You Stop Working
You are hopefully already drinking plenty of water while you are working out. But your body still needs extra hydration in the hours and even days that follow. Your body is working hard, and it needs extra hydration to help it along.
Get Some Sleep
Sleeping while you are sore can be tough, but it will help. While you are asleep, all your body has to do is recover and refresh, without distraction. So, have a bath, enjoy a healthy dinner, avoid caffeine, take some painkillers, and get an early night.
Remember DOMS Are a Good Thing
Every time your body hurts, remind yourself of what you are achieving, how much stronger you will soon feel, and how your body is changing. Congratulate yourself on a good workout, and look forward to the next one while taking care of yourself.
While you won’t get rid of muscle aches and pains ultimately, these tips can make them a little easier to bear, helping you to carry on with your typical day without too much pain or discomfort. Unfortunately, aches are a part of a fit and healthy lifestyle.