New year is that time of the year when most people are more motivated than ever to get back into fitness. If you are one of them and you haven’t worked out in awhile, brace yourself for some serious muscle soreness after your first workout in like, forever. The type where you can barely walk or sit down or climb the stairs or can’t laugh without your ab muscles not throbbing (depending of course on whether you worked these muscle groups or not). Don’t let this deter you from continuing your fitness plan though. Everyone, even people exercising for years, gets delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS after an intense workout.
What is DOMS?
Delayed onset muscle soreness is that dull, aching soreness in a muscle group that has been the target of hard training in recent days. It typically begins to develop 12-24 hours after the exercise has been performed and may produce the greatest pain between 24-72 hours after the exercise has been performed. It can last from 3 to 5 days depending on your last workout’s intensity. For awhile it was linked to the build-up of lactic acid but it has been shown that lactic acid is not a component of this process. DOMS appears to be a side effect of the repair process that develops in response to microscopic muscle damage. It is particularly prevalent in workouts that involve eccentric movement which is when your muscle is being stretched by a weight—like lowering a dumbbell in a biceps curl, lowering yourself from a pull-up bar, sinking into a squat, the action of starting and stopping a lot (such as in intervals) or the lengthening of the thigh muscles while the limb brakes against your body’s momentum as it walks or jogs down a hill.
Can you prevent DOMS?
DOMS is inevitable. If you are a beginner, starting a new workout program or increasing the intensity of your usual workouts, it will happen. No one is immune to it. Lifters, runners, yogis and athletes of all types experience DOMS after trying an activity that stretches or works their muscles in new ways or from new angles.
How can you relieve delayed onset muscle soreness?
Good news is, there are certain precautions you can take to help reduce the intensity of it. You may never be able to completely eliminate muscle soreness but doing these can help alleviate it.
- Drink a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea. Scientists have suggested that caffeine can reduce soreness because it blocks the central nervous receptors that are related to pain. Drinking a cup before working out can help increase muscular strength and endurance and reduce the chance of soreness.
- Take BCAAs before your workout. Research has found that this can help increase rates of protein synthesis, suppress muscle protein breakdown, reduce markers of muscle damage, and lessen the symptoms of delayed onset of muscle soreness.
- Warm up properly. Warming up the muscles you are about to workout can help reduce the degree of muscle soreness after. Do a bit of cardio and dynamic stretching to prep your muscle and joints for the types of forces that may cause damage.
- Take it slowly. Gradually build up the amount of exercise you do in your program instead of going all out right away. Giving the muscle time to adapt to new stress should help minimize the severity of the soreness.
- Do a thorough cool down. Do some cool down drills and stretching right after your workout. Light foam rolling is a good idea as it massages out knots and increase blood flow to your muscles.
- Take a cold shower post-workout. This helps to reduce inflammation of the muscles.
- Consider getting a sports massage. It can increase circulation and break up major knots in problem areas that are always sore.
- Do active recovery. In the days after your workout, aim to do light exercises and stay mobile. Working out while you have DOMS may be the last thing you want to do but this has been shown to help boost blood flow to the region and decrease soreness. It helps to get the blood pumping to the affected muscles, bringing oxygen and nutrients and flushing out any buildup of post-exercise waste products. Word of caution: don’t go hard the next day or even the day after. Just go easy: Walk, don’t run. Do lighter weights with fewer reps and sets. Do light yoga. Cross-training is also an option, but again, don’t do it aggressively.
- Rest. For some, DOMS can make them totally debilitated and unable to do any type of physical activity. In which case, give your body a break and time to recover. It can take a week to fully recover and that might be how long your body needs before you hit it hard again.
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