By Ethan Konoza, ATC
Athletic Trainer
MUSC Health Sports Medicine

Post workout muscle soreness? Use these tips to speed up recovery and reduce soreness.

Summer is around the corner, and now it is finally time to get the gym and start chasing that beach body you’ve always wanted! So you’re at the gym crushing your workout feeling great. By the time you wake up in the morning you’re feeling aches, pains, and soreness! This is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS is a common problem for almost anyone who partakes in intense or unaccustomed exercises. Here are some tips you can implement to your post exercise routine that will help combat DOMS and get you back to normal function as rapidly as possible.

Understanding DOMS

Delayed-onset muscle soreness is a common experience for all individuals who partake in exercise at one time or another. There are many types of physical activity that cause delayed soreness.

  • Strength training exercises
  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Walking down inclines/declines

Delayed soreness tends to begin 12 to 24 hours after exercise. This pain and soreness can linger around for days making working out impossible and lifting normal things or taking stairs dreadful tasks. Current literature suggests that eccentric muscle contractions are thought to be the main culprit in resulting soreness.1 Eccentric muscle contractions are those actions in which the muscle is being lengthened. An example would be the lowering phase of a bicep curl or getting into a squat position.

Initially DOMS was thought to be a result of lactic acid build up in the muscle, similar to acute muscle soreness, however we now know that this is not the case. DOMS seems to be a by-product of the repair process occurring after microscopic muscle damage.1,2 While no one enjoys being in pain or feeling sore, it is important to remember that this soreness you are experiencing is temporary and is leading to a stronger you.

Starting slow

When starting a new program, starting slow can help reduce the effects of DOMS. Slow progression in a new program allows your muscles time to adjust to the new demands being placed on them. Allowing this time for adaptation will help in reducing the amount of soreness experienced in the first couple of sessions.

Warm up

Although there is little evidence to suggest that warming up is effective in reducing DOMS, it is always important to prepare your body for stresses that you are about to place upon it. It is important to break a mild to moderate sweat while warming up. Make sure to incorporate dynamic stretching to prepare your muscles and joints for the exercises you are about to perform.

Active recovery

This is a technique used by many athletes to help with recovery time. Active recovery can be extremely beneficial in reducing muscle soreness, but be careful not to over do it. Active recovery can include cross training like bike riding, swimming, or jogging at a lower intensity than normal. The goal with this isn’t to increase strength, power, or endurance. It is to increase blood flow to muscles bringing in necessary nutrients to enhance the recovery process.2,3

Massage

Massage is used to decrease muscle soreness, pain, and stress, and improves circulation and lymphatic flow.2 Massage can help promote and aid in the recovery process, but it is important not to be too aggressive. Easy does it in terms of massage and its role in recovery.

Foam rolling

Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique that can provide improvements in flexibility, movement efficiency, and muscle recovery.3 During the recovery process our muscle fibers can become knotted and misaligned causing a reduction in muscle elasticity, soreness, and stiffness. SMR can be used to release the knots in the muscle aiding in the recovery process. This can be done prior to exercise as well as post.

Ice

While icing injuries remains a debated topic in the sports medicine world, it can be beneficial for the analgesic effects. While physiologically the literature remains to be seen on ice having any effects on the inflammation process, there is no question that it can be used to help temporarily relieve aches and pains.

Try implementing some of these things into your post exercise regiment to combat DOMS and improve recovery. It is important to remember that some techniques may be more effective than others and each individual may respond differently to the next. It is important to find what works for you and your needs.

For more information visit MUSC Health Sports Medicine

References

  1. https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/delayed-onset-muscle-soreness-(doms).pdf
  2. https://magazine.nasm.org/american-fitness-magazine/issues/american-fitness-magazine-winter-2017/exploring-the-science-of-recovery
  3. Ahmaidi, S., et al. 1996. Effects of active recovery on plasma lactate and anaerobic power following repeated intensive exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28 (4), 450–456.
  4. https://www.myofascial-pain-syndrome.org/myofascial-release-as-an-effective-post-workout-recovery/