Muscle soreness or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is a feeling we can all relate to for up to a few days after a workout. There are plenty of funny memes on how walking up the stairs is a mission in itself after a heavy leg workout the day before. The exact cause of DOMS is still up for debate but it usually occurs after an unusually intense workout or doing an activity you aren’t used to. There is said to be micro traumas in the muscle that cause that aching sensation.
The level of DOMS does not necessary reflect how productive a workout was. It may indicate that you trained hard but a seasoned athlete will experience a lot less DOMS than a completely unconditioned gym newbie. When I used to do a 1 hour leg routine once a week my legs used to ache for at least 3 days afterwards. I decided I wanted to improve the strength and size of my legs so I started to train them 3 times a week. For the initial 2 weeks my legs were aching constantly but I knew they would eventually adapt and be more conditioned to handle this workload. From weeks 3 onward my legs barely ached anymore and my strength and leg size had increased too. To beat my leg day DOMS I just attacked it head on.
If you do experience DOMS you will need to wait for your body to recover to get rid of the soreness completely. However, there are some ways that can potentially ease your suffering to a degree.
Light Exercising and Stretching
It’s unlikely you can train intensely when you’re still aching but a light workout or a stretching session might help loosen you up a bit.
Drugs such as Ibuprofen can help alleviate some of the pain but it won’t prevent DOMS or make your muscles stronger. I would probably stay clear of relying on drugs for pain relief except for extreme cases.
Better Sleep and Nutrition
With sufficient sleep and the necessary food to help you recover from training, your body will be in an optimal environment to repair itself from any muscular trauma. We all know that protein helps build and repair muscle. A good night’s sleep will also keep cortisol levels down allowing us to recover faster and more effectively.
Other methods such as icing, applying a hot compress, and getting a massage are often used for DOMS but there is no conclusive scientific data showing it actually reduces it. If you feel that some of these methods work after a bit of trial and error then there’s no real reason to stop using them.
Experiencing the initial DOMS is a rite of passage for every fitness journey but there’s no need to keep experiencing severe muscle soreness after the initial few weeks. My advice would be to treat every workout as a small step to the intended long term result. In order for a muscle to grow or to become stronger we might experience muscle soreness because of the muscle damage from training. This does not mean that we should train with the intention of trying to get sore. We should all train hard to maximize our progress but overreaching with your training can lead to diminishing returns. We can get overly sore and this can be counterproductive as it stops us from training intensely in future sessions because it takes us longer to recover. Slowly build yourself up to be able to handle intense workouts and train consistently over time.
Train hard but train smart!
Rishi Haria – Strength & Conditioning Coach
E: email@example.com, T: 02-662-1618