The term “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness” (or DOMS) is usually seen as the bane of new exercisers, but even experienced athletes know that changing up your workout routine or intensity can result in some serious pain for the next few days.
If you’re recovering from your first tough workout, you might be wondering how to cope with the pain that’s starting to set in. The truth is, while nearly everyone who works out is going to experience DOMS at some point, there are some steps you can take both during and after your workout to reduce your discomfort and post workout soreness.
Adequate warm-up and cool-down. Your warm-up should mimic your workout, but at a lower intensity. Cool-downs offer a similar benefit by allowing your mind and body to acclimate to your post-workout environment as your heart rate and breathing slow and your muscles relax.
Stretching and flexibility. While stretching may have little impact on DOMS following the workout you just completed, over time it will increase your range of movement, muscle strength and potentially prevent future aches and pains.
Finally, as you plan your workouts, know that workouts involving unconventional movements (like downhill running, plyometric training, and resistance training) are more likely to lead to DOMS. If these workouts are your main game plan, especially if you’re increasing intensity over previous efforts, then increasing your usual warm-up and cool down will greatly benefit you.
Once DOMS sets in, there are a few recommendations that might help you find relief…and a few that won’t.
Massage. Studies have shown that massage can increase inflammation in the body and can increase muscle soreness, so it is unlikely to leave you feeling better once DOMS is leaving you sidelined. A light massage that will improve your circulation immediately after your workout however, is worth a shot, as long as it is at a level of intensity that will not lead to more inflammation.
Active recovery. Many athletes swear by active recovery, so returning to activities that are similar to but lower in intensity than the ones that left you sore, may leave you with some relief. Try a few reps of bodyweight strength training and some slow running, walking or elliptical training. Swimming can also be especially helpful.
Alternative methods. Other common recommendations include Epsom salts baths and ibuprofen. While research demonstrating the effectiveness of these interventions is pretty limited, many athletes find them helpful.
The main thing to understand is that DOMS is a normal response to changes in your workout routine, whether you’re new to exercise, or are just new to your current activity. However you treat it, remember to give yourself extra time to recover between your workouts, including extra sleep and good nutrition, and keep in mind that the soreness will pass within a session or two.
About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.