Workouts

How to Get Rid of Muscle Soreness After a Workout

Steve Hill, SPT, CSCS

Let’s pretend it’s the first week of January. The holiday memories from the past few weeks drift away as you get started on your New Year’s resolution: a weekly exercise program.

You’ve already completed (and dominated) your first workout and you’re excited for the next one. Yeah, you feel tired, but you’re sense of accomplishment is stronger. You head to bed feeling like a champ, then it happens…

After a full night’s rest, you wake up to find that your legs are stiff, your abs are sore, and your chest feels like it might snap when you stretch. Is this soreness normal? Did you overdo your workout? You warmed up beforehand, you drank plenty of water throughout the day, and you got great sleep after. So, why is your muscle soreness so intense?

Don’t freak out just yet. What you’re most likely feeling is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) a common experience that occurs within 12-24 hours after intense exercise.

What exactly is DOMS?

DOMS is the result of tiny tears in your muscle fibers as a result of eccentric muscle movement – or in layman’s terms, when you exercise hard and are unaccustomed to the workout.

The term “eccentric” simply means you’re contracting and lengthening a muscle; for example, think of a bicep curl, your arm going down then up during the move. Eccentric activities cause normal micro-injury, which release a whole host of responses in your body to repair the damage. These tears and subsequent repairs are what make you stronger. However, you might feel muscle soreness, reduced strength, and limited range of motion (all of which are common with DOMS) for a short period of time.

How to reduce the effects of muscle soreness

If you train on a regular basis, try reducing the intensity and length of of your exercise for 1–2 days following intense DOMS-inducing exercise.

Alternatively, you can target the unaffected body parts to allow the sore muscle groups to recover. Maybe you really blasted your legs two days ago and you’re still feeling it. Instead of pumping out jump squats during your next workout, give your legs a break and work your core or upper body. Some theories suggest that avoiding all exercise during DOMS can actually prolong soreness, as exercise can promote blood flow and rid the sore muscles of inflammatory metabolites. So, it’s best to remain active.

There is also (moderate) evidence showing that a RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation – protocol can be beneficial to reduce the inflammatory effects of DOMS. After working out, make sure to get adequate rest and ice the sore muscles with 20 minute cooling sessions. This evidence also suggests that gentle compression from compression sleeves and garments can also provide DOMS relief. Luckily, compression garments are relatively cheap and easy to use during and after exercise.

In Summary…

Exercise is a crucial component to sustainably good health and well-being. If you’re new to exercise, you might feel sore after your first couple of workouts. But, as you become stronger and more accustomed to exercise, your soreness will decrease with time.

If you experience DOMS frequently:

  • Dial down the intensity of your workouts.
  • When a body part feels sore, try working out another body part that doesn’t feel as affected.
  • Experiment with RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
  • Try using compression sleeves or garments to alleviate the muscle soreness.

Most importantly, don’t let DOMS stop you from continuing with your fitness goals. It’s a normal, and thankfully temporary reaction of the body.

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Have fitness or nutrition questions for me? Reach out via the “Ask a Trainer” link in your Sworkit app.

Steve Hill, SPT, CSCS

Steve is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and one of Sworkit's Fitness Trainers. His favorite activities are working out, hiking, four-wheeling, and body surfing. He's currently in his final year of UNLV’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program. Steve loves helping members with injury prevention and strength training.
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