Work Out After Your Workout to Avoid DOMS
Have you ever worked out and felt overly sore a day or two later? You may think these aches and pains are a result of your workout's intensity, but it's probably a case of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
DOMS can happen to anyone who works out, regardless of fitness level, and can often take days to recover from. It can make mundane tasks, like getting out of bed, walking and even sitting, both painful and uncomfortable. If you're trying to stick to a workout routine, it can leave you couched for days, making the necessary consistency difficult.
However, there are some things you should consider when trying to curb DOMS' effect on your body after a tough workout.
What exactly is DOMS?
Delayed onset muscle soreness is a painful or aching sensation people experience 24 to 72 hours following exercise. The pain ranges from mild to extreme soreness, leaving you unable to move much, if at all. No one is sure exactly what causes the soreness, but lactic acid buildup, muscle spasms, tissue and/or muscle damage, and inflammation are all hypothesized culprits.
Some scientists believe the pain is caused by tiny tears in the muscle, which, though minor, can lead to uncomfortable pain.
"During exercise, muscles may experience micro-tears, which ultimately allow for them to enlarge," said Rami Hashish, founder of the National Biomechanics Institute and founder and chief technological officer of pareIT. "Although such tearing may be associated with inflammation, stiffness and pain, it's actually an indication that your muscles are getting stronger."
Delayed onset muscle soreness typically occurs when you start a new type of workout, work out a different group of muscles or are returning to exercise after an extended break. That said, it can occur after any workout.
How to prevent DOMS
Since delayed onset muscle soreness can interrupt your fitness routine—and everyday life—it's important to know how to combat this post-exercise killjoy.
Paul Warloski, cycling and running coach at Simple Endurance Coaching, put it simply: "The best way to deal with DOMS is to avoid DOMS."
Here are five strategies to do just that.
1. Slowly increase your workout intensity
Delayed onset muscle soreness can be avoided by slowly building up your exercise routine rather than shocking your body with sudden, strenuous exercises. Ease your way up to heavier weights, slowly extend the distances you're running or cycling, and always add recovery exercises into your routine.
"A proactive method of mitigating the potential for DOMS is to progressively introduce more intense eccentric training over a period of time such that you don't 'shock' your muscles from one intense bout of activity," Hashish advised.
But what does this mean exactly? Warloski helped put this into perspective.
"I know I can do an easy 3 miles," Warloski said. "But if I haven't done one in a few months, the next day, DOMS kicks in."
Even if you've done a specific exercise before—lifted a certain weight or run/cycled a distance—if you're out of practice, it's important to build back up to your previous intensity to best avoid DOMS.
2. Adopt a cool-down routine
A cool-down routine that slowly reduces your heart rate and eases your body down after an intense workout can be helpful. This can be something as simple as a light 10-minute jog that slows to a walk, followed by stretching to prevent onset muscle pain. Warloski suggests gentle recovery options, such as walks or mobility yoga.
Stretching before and after exercising can help you avoid injury, but it can also help you avoid DOMS. Make sure you stretch any muscles you worked out once you're done. For instance, if you work your glutes and thighs, stretches targeting these muscles can help soothe your muscles and avoid acute pain days later.
3. Try recovery stretches
Although stretching works best if it happens post-exercise, if you forget and DOMS kicks in, light stretching can help reduce your pain. Stretching alone won't eliminate DOMS—only time will—but it can help you feel better in the short term.
4. Ice it
A great remedy for inflamed muscles is applying an ice pack or taking an ice bath. According to Hashish, "The use of ice and massage following exercise has been shown effective in limiting soreness but have a negligible effect on muscle function."
The cold will help reduce inflammation while making the pain more bearable. If you opt for an ice pack, apply it for 10 to 15 minutes, and then remove it and let your muscles rest for another 10 to 15 minutes. Reapply as needed.
You can also try running hot water over sore muscles for a few minutes before switching to cold water for 30 seconds. Repeat five or more times, as needed. This "flushing" technique can help break up lactic acid, relieving some pain.
5. Book a light massage
Sports massages and other gentle massages can help aid your muscles in recovering. But be sure you request a gentle massage—too much pressure could cause your muscles to feel even more sore than they already do.