Starting a new training program can be tough. Whether you are new to working out, returning to exercise after an injury or just starting a new style of program, then you will most likely have experience the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Have your muscles ever been so sore after a workout that you have struggled to walk up stairs, or to sit down, or even just to get dressed (especially putting on a bra). This is all because of DOMS.
DOMS can affect just about anyone, from elite athletes, to beginners, to people who haven’t worked out in a long time. This might mean that you feel stiff and sore, but DOMS is nothing to worry about, it can just take time for your muscles to adapt.
What are DOMS?
Delayed onset muscle soreness is sore, aching, painful feeling and stiffness that occurs in a day or two after a workout. Pain felt during or immediately after a workout is a different kind of muscle soreness called, acute muscle soreness.
DOMS can happen when you’ve worked the muscle harder than you are used to by increasing the intensity of your workout. You might have increased your number of workouts or the length of your workouts, lifted a heavier weight or increased your number of repetitions.
During your workouts, small tears, called “micro-tears”, occur within the muscle tissue, causing you to feel achy and sore. DOMS generally gets better on its own after a few days to a week.
Signs that you have DOMS
- Muscles worked feel tender to touch (kind of feel like they are bruised)
- Reduced range of motion due to pain and stiffness when moving
- Short term loss of muscle strength
- Muscle fatigue
- Swelling in the affected muscles
It’s important to note that if you don’t experience delayed onset muscle soreness, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you didn’t work hard enough, your body does adjust to workouts and you won’t get sore every time.
What can you do to help speed up muscle recovery
Here are a few things that you can do to reduce the discomfort of delayed-onset muscle soreness, or to prevent it all together.
Foam roll and stretch – Foam rolling and dynamic stretching before a workout can be used as a warm and static stretching as a cool down. But you also want to take time on your rest day to foam roll and stretch any tight muscles to help reduce any discomfort and improve flexibility.
Keep moving – you want to keep up light movement even on rest days to keep blood circulating throughout your body. If you spend your rest day, not doing a lot of moving your muscles are going to feel stiff and make you feel worse. Even a 10 minute walk or taking the stairs instead of using the elevator can help.
Don’t skip rest days – You should aim to have at least one full day of rest each week to allow your body to recover. Sometimes you need to simply rest.
Reduce stress - When you are under stress, the body is focused on the stress response and doesn’t have the capacity to prioritise muscle recovery.
Listen to your body - You might spend a little extra time stretching one area that’s tight and pay some attention to how it feels during your next workout.
Increase intensity gradually - Ideally, any resistance training program will gradually increase the intensity of each workout, within your limits. By applying this principle, you will continually challenge your body without pushing it beyond its current threshold.
Some people think unless you feel sore after every workout, you’re not making any progress. But this is just not true. When you start a new exercise routine or push your limits, you’re more likely to get sore. But as you keep working out, your body adapts. You may feel less and less sore with each workout, but that in no way means you’re not working out hard enough or that you’re missing out on progress from those workouts.
You are doing great! Don’t be discouraged, stick to your program and your body will adapt.