DOMS: How To Prevent Post-Workout Soreness

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May 7, 2020

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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 72 hours after a workout. This can happen when you’ve performed new exercises or worked the muscle harder than you are used to by increasing the intensity and rate of perceived exertion of your workout. During your workouts, small tears, called “micro-tears”, occur within the muscle tissue, causing you to feel achy and sore. 

According to 2018 research, the primary cause of DOMS is thought to be the damage of muscle cells due to unfamiliar sporting activities or eccentric exercise, meaning the motion of a muscle lengthening under load such as a dumbbell. Peak soreness tends to be between 48 and 72 hours after exercise.

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. It is normal to experience DOMS at any stage of your fitness journey.

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 or that you didn't work hard enough. You can have an effective and challenging workout and feel no soreness at all! There are other ways to track your fitness progress to ensure you’re moving towards your health goals. 

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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. 

If you're feeling very sore, 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, or train different muscle groups that don't feel sore. 

When you first start working out, aim to schedule your resistance workouts every second day and alternate between muscle groups to to give yourself time to recover between workouts. 

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.  

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 swimming, walking or 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 and strength, 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. 

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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

The same 2018 review 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 2018 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 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.

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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. Do you have any tips for reducing musle soreness? Let us know in the comments!

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A more empowered you starts with Sweat, and our editorial team is here to bring you the latest fitness tips, trainer recommendations, wellbeing news, nutritional advice, nourishing recipes and free workouts.

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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