Waking up the next morning with muscle soreness is not one of my favorite things.
Getting out of bed early in the morning, getting up and down from the throne, and bending over to tie my shoes hurt. All the little things you usually do without pain turn into a test of will. Me against the sore muscles. Sore muscles-1211 V Me-0
Training to get stronger is great and has many benefits but sometimes there are some drawbacks and muscle soreness is one of those things.
True story. My client almost resorted to calling 911 because he couldn’t get up from the throne the next day after attending one of my training sessions. He hadn’t exercised in years and his enthusiasm in trying to keep up with the class caused him a severe case of muscle soreness otherwise known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS.
But what is DOMS and how can you reduce it? If you’re wondering about these questions, then read on.
What Is DOMS?
DOMS is thought to be connective tissue microtrauma as a result of inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the muscle. While most exercises can cause DOMS, exercises with an eccentric (lowering or negative part) emphasis play a greater role in DOMS. (1)
Although it depends on the person, DOMS usually kicks in at around six to eight hours post-exercise and peaks around the 48-hour mark. DOMS happens mostly in the legs but it occurs anywhere in the body that’s been subjected to intense exercise.
3 Ways to Reduce Muscle Soreness Or DOMS
There’s a school of thought that thinks if you’re not sore the next day after a workout, then you didn’t do enough. You didn’t build any muscle, lose any fat, or improve your performance. This IMO is not true.
But chasing soreness doesn’t always mean you’re always improving. Sometimes it causes more harm than good. A little is okay, but more is not better. Extreme muscle soreness can decrease the force-producing capacity of the muscle which is bad for your performance in future training or trying to get off the throne.
Plus, your motivation levels can take a hit because who wants to exercise when you can’t move? So, a little soreness is okay, but more is not better. Here are 3 ways to reduce your muscle soreness to enjoy the benefits of hard training and getting up and down without pain.
Protein is not only essential for muscle but eating or drinking protein during and after exercise has been shown to reduce muscle soreness. (2) Stimulating protein synthesis after your training gives the muscles what they need to repair and rebuild so you’re not as sore.
Plus, drinking coffee an hour before you train can reduce muscle soreness, and fatigue. Caffeine has painkilling properties which is why it’s an ingredient in some over-the-counter pain medications.
In one study, nine low caffeine males were either given caffeine or a placebo and performed 5 sets of 10 preacher curls, the last set being to failure. The ones who took caffeine had less soreness after 48 hours than the ones who took the placebo. (3)
2. Foam Rolling
Foam rolling helps relieve tension in the muscle connective tissue. Research has shown that foam rolling for 20 minutes 24 and 48 hours after exercise helps reduce DOMS and improves muscle performance. (4)
Here are some of my go-to foam rolling moves.
Upper Back Foam Roll
This drill relieves pain and stiffness and improves shoulder mobility due to bringing blood flow to the upper back.
Hip Flexor Foam Roll
There is no better way to prepare and improve your hip flexors’ mobility for training or to reduce muscle soreness in your quads than by foam rolling them.
Lat Foam Roll
Yes, foam rolling them hurts but if you can stand the pain this improves shoulder health, and movement and reduce their muscle soreness.
3. Aerobic Exercise
Helping to increase blood flow like with aerobic exercise helps to speed the inflammatory process along, improve your muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness.
26 women were split into three different groups and performed a DOMS-inducing exercise of the knee extensors then followed either with low-intensity cycling, moderate-intensity cycling, or seated rest. Those in the moderate-intensity group recovered faster and regained strength quicker than the other two groups. (5)
Although the above example involved cycling you should reap the benefits of an aerobic recovery using a cardiovascular exercise you enjoy. Here are a few suggestions to help reduce muscle soreness.
You’re going to spend 10 minutes on the bike at a moderate intensity
10 minutes on the treadmill. Use the incline function for intensity and keep the speed at around 3-4 mph.
10 minutes on the rowing machine at a moderate intensity
3 min Aerobic Intervals (done on any machine you like)
Warm-up for 4 minutes
Perform a 3 min aerobic interval working between
Follow with active rest by 3 minutes of very low intensity
Repeat 3-5 times and cool down for 4 minutes
1. M J Cleak 1, R G Eston “Muscle soreness, swelling, stiffness and strength loss after intense eccentric exercise.” Br J Sports Med.1992 Dec;26(4): 267-72.doi: 10.1136
2. Michael J. Saunders et. al., “Consumption Of An Oral Carbohydrate-protein Gel Improves Cycling Endurance And Prevents Postexercise Muscle Damage,” J. Strength and Cond. Res., 21(3), 678-684, 2007.
3. Caitlin F Hurley et. al., “The effect of caffeine ingestion on delayed onset muscle soreness” J Strength Cond Res2013 Nov;27(11): 3101-9.doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a99477s.
4. Gregory E P Pearcey et al., “Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures” ., J Athl Train 2015 Jan;50(1):5-13. DOI: 10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.01. Epub 2014 Nov 21
5. James J. Tufano, et. al., “Effect Of Aerobic Recovery Intensity On Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness And Strength,” J. Strength and Cond. Res., 26(10), 2777-2782, 2012.