DOMS: How To Prevent Post-Workout Soreness
Starting a new training program can be hard. If you’re new to working out or are returning to exercise after an injury, you may have experienced a fitness hangover or felt the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
When you try a new training style or add new exercises into your workouts, it can take time for your muscles to adapt. This might mean that you feel stiff and sore — that sore feeling is an indication that your muscles have been challenged, and you are getting stronger.
If you have experienced DOMS, here’s why you feel sore and what you can do to recover faster.
What is DOMS?
Delayed-onset muscle soreness is pain and stiffness that occurs 24 to 48 hours after a workout. This can happen when you’ve worked the muscle harder than you are used to by increasing the intensity of your workout.
This might be because you’ve trained at a higher rate of perceived exertion, or perhaps done a type of exercise you haven’t tried previously. During your workouts, small tears, called “micro-tears”, occur within the muscle tissue, causing you to feel achy and sore.
According to a 2008 study by Southampton Solent University in the UK, and published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, DOMS results from eccentric muscle contraction — this is when the muscle tenses as it lengthens. A bicep curl is one example of an eccentric contraction. As you lower the dumbbell, the bicep muscle engages to support the weight.
Muscle vibration can also contribute to muscle damage and soreness — that means DOMS can occur after high-intensity training as well as after a strength workout.
Delayed onset muscle soreness can occur when your overall training load increases as you work towards your fitness goals. You might have increased your number of workouts or the length of your workouts, lifted a heavier weight or increased your number of repetitions.
What are the symptoms of DOMS?
Signs that you have delayed onset muscle soreness include:
- Muscles worked feel tender to touch
- Stiffness and reduced range of motion when moving
- Short term loss of muscle strength
- Muscle fatigue
If you find that you are sore the next day after a workout, there are ways that you can speed up your muscle recovery and get back to your training.
It’s important to note that if you don’t experience delayed onset muscle soreness, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve reached a workout plateau. There are other ways to track your fitness progress to ensure you’re moving towards your health goals.
Should you train with sore muscles?
This is a question that is often asked by the Sweat Community.
Delayed onset muscle soreness shouldn’t prevent you from training for long. However, you might need to adjust the intensity of your workouts for a few days to allow your body to recover and adapt.
Rest and good nutrition are a very important part of any workout program. When you rest and eat a balanced diet that includes carbohydrates and high protein foods, you give your body the building blocks it needs to repair and become stronger for your next workout.
When feeling very sore, you should reduce the intensity of your workouts to allow your body to fully recover. Try yoga or low-intensity cardio instead of a tougher workout to allow your body time to adapt.
When you first start working out, aim to schedule your resistance workouts every second day to give yourself a day to recover between workouts.
What training can you do with DOMS?
If you are experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness, it can be tempting to stop moving altogether until you recover. However, by continuing to gently move your body, you can speed up your recovery time.
Active recovery such as a swim, a walk or some yoga can help to reduce muscle soreness.
If you do want to do a resistance workout, consider training a different area of your body. For example, if your legs are feeling sore from your last workout, do an upper body workout and allow your leg muscles more time to recover.
It’s also okay to take a rest day — rest is just as important as your workout. Establishing healthy sleep habits or making time for mindfulness and meditation can help you to develop a better mind-body relationship so that you can get more out of your workouts.
The Sweat programs balance resistance training with recovery and low-intensity cardio to ensure that muscle soreness won’t prevent you from making working out into a habit.
How to reduce DOMS
Here are a few things that you can do to reduce the discomfort of delayed-onset muscle soreness, or to prevent it altogether.
Increase intensity gradually
When you start a new exercise regime, look for a training program that incorporates “progressive overload”. This is a training principle that gradually progresses your fitness by increasing the amount of weight you lift or the number of reps or circuits you do.
While you definitely should be challenging your body, it’s important to do so gradually. This will help to prevent DOMS, and it will also help to keep you moving towards your fitness goals.
When you start a new workout program or training style, adjust the intensity of your training to ensure that you can complete the recommended number of repetitions easily.
Focus on maintaining proper form and ensure that you do each exercise correctly so that you get the maximum training benefits. As you gain confidence, you can increase the weight or number of reps to start pushing your body.
Drink plenty of water
Staying hydrated before, during and after your workout can help to reduce muscle soreness.
Carrying a water bottle during the day can help to remind you to take regular sips so that you maximise your workouts and stay hydrated.
Take time to cool down
Making time for low-intensity movement at the end of each resistance training session can help to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness. You can include static stretching in your cool down to boost your flexibility too.
There’s a guided cool down at the end of each resistance training workout in the Sweat app that you can use to help ease any post-workout tension.
Do a foam rolling session
Foam rolling is essentially a form of self-massage that can help to reduce post-workout muscle soreness. You can use a foam roller right after a workout to help to reduce the symptoms of DOMS and perceived fatigue by stimulating blood flow to the muscles used in your workout.
Swap a workout for active recovery
If you are really too sore to work out, try switching your scheduled workout for low-intensity cardio or active recovery instead. A 2018 review by the University of Poitiers, France, and published in Frontiers of Physiology, found that short bursts of low-intensity movement can help to reduce DOMS.
Active recovery helps to enhance blood flow to the muscle tissue which assists with the removal of metabolic waste, including lactate.
Get a massage
A 2017 literature review by Shanghai University of Sport and Wenzhou Medical University in China, and published in Frontiers In Physiology, found that massage was the most effective method for reducing DOMS and perceived fatigue.
Massage helps to reduce the inflammatory proteins circulating in the blood after a workout and increases blood and lymph flow.
Wear compression garments
The same 2017 review found that compression clothing can help to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness for up to four days after a workout. Compression can also help with your perception of fatigue, so you’ll feel less tired and sore.
Immerse your sore muscles in cool water
A 2015 review of nine studies by São Paulo State University, Brazil, and published in Sports Medicine, found that immersion in cold water with a temperature of 11-15 degrees Celsius (52-59 degrees Fahrenheit) for 10-15 minutes following exercise can effectively reduce post-workout soreness.
Use these tips to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness
If you’ve pulled up sore after a tough workout, don’t be discouraged — if you stick with a consistent workout program, your body will adapt to the exercise you are doing.
Use your rest days effectively to help your body to recover faster from your workouts and focus on listening to your body. Being fit and healthy isn’t something that you can achieve overnight — it’s a life-long process that you will keep working on!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.