What is the muscle soreness that I feel after exercising?
It’s normal for your muscles to feel sore and stiff after exercising and this is known as delayed onset muscles soreness or DOMS. This soreness develops between 24 and 48 hours after exercise and can last for up to three days. It occurs when starting a new workout programme or increasing the intensity of a workout. This happens when the muscle is overworked more than it is used to. It is very common and perfectly normal to experience this as it is simply an indication that you are putting stress on your muscles which makes them become stronger. In a lot of cases, it can give the motivation needed to show that you are making progress. Everybody who exercises will get this including body builders, people who increase the weight in their workout and those new to exercise.
How can I reduce DOMS?
- Make sure that you warm up and cool down properly. Before you start your workout, spend at least 5 minutes warming up to get your muscles ready for exercise. Try jump squats (propel upwards from a squat position into a jump, land back into a squat and repeat), side lunges (stand with legs hip width apart and take a big step to the right, bending the right knee and keeping the left leg straight. Keep your head and chest up and push the hips back. Repeat on the other side), arm circles (stand with your arms extended out to the side and make small circles gradually getting bigger, first in one direction and then the opposite direction), leg swings (stand, supporting yourself by holding onto a wall, if you need the extra stability, and kick one leg backwards and forwards as though you are kicking a ball, and then repeat with the other leg) and hip circles (stand on one foot, keeping a soft bend in the supporting leg, and circle the raised leg, keeping the knee bent, both backwards and forwards. Repeat a few reps and then change to the other leg). Spend another 5 minutes cooling down at the end of your workout to gradually bring your heart rate and breathing back to normal. See the stretches below.
- Stretching. Include some dynamic stretches (moving in and out of the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds) into your warm up to prepare your muscles for exercising, and static stretches (hold for 15 to 30 seconds) into your cool down, to reduce the amount of lactic acid build up in the body, relax tight muscles, and help to keep them toned and flexible. Try incorporating the following stretches which can all be either dynamic (simply move in and out of the stretch) or static (hold the stretch) into your workout: glute stretch (lie on your back with your legs bent and cross your right ankle over your left knee. Grip your hands around your left thigh and pull your leg in towards you. Repeat with the other leg), hamstring stretch (Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and lean forwards, keeping your legs straight, until you feel a stretch) and overhead triceps stretch (stand and place one arm over your head, bending at the elbow to lower your hand down your back. Gently push the arm down by pressing on the elbow with the other hand, then repeat with the other arm). You can also add in neck rotations (turn your head to the right, then drop the chin down towards your chest and continue turning your head until you are looking to the left), chest stretch stand with your hands clasped together behind your back and your arms straight. Raise your arms up until you feel a stretch), calves (stand with one leg in front of the other. Bend the back knee and rest your front leg on your heel. Lower down until you feel a stretch, then repeat on the other leg) and abs (lie on your front with your hands either side of your shoulders and push up until your chest is off the floor and your arms are straight).
- Hydration. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise as this will speed up your recovery time, remove toxins from your body and ease that sore feeling. Muscles need protein, but water is just as important. Don’t let dehydration wreck your workout.
- Check your technique. Make sure that you are using proper technique when you exercise to ensure that you are targeting the correct muscles for the specific exercise and that you avoid putting unnecessary strain on other joints and muscles.
- Increase the intensity of your workout gradually. Increasing intensity, resistance, how often you exercise and length of time exercising gradually, allows your muscles to strengthen and adapt. If you overtrain and push yourself too hard and too quickly, you are more likely to suffer with DOMS whilst also increasing your risk of injury.
- Massage and foam rolling. Massage will help to clear out lactic acid and other waste products from the body helping to increase blood flow and relieve muscle tension, soreness and stiffness. Foam rolling provides a deep tissue massage which helps to loosen knots and alleviate inflammation. It also helps to boost circulation and increase flexibility.
- Rest and recovery. Give your body time for your muscles to recover between workouts. Resting your muscles allows them to restore their glycogen store which, in turn, will reduce muscle fatigue. It also gives your muscles time to repair after the damage created when you exercise. Exercising causes minuscule tears in the muscle fibres, and the repairing of these tears is what makes the muscle stronger. Not allowing this to happen can increase your risk of injury.
Remember some muscle soreness is normal after exercise, especially if you are starting a new workout routine or increasing the intensity of your workout, however, this shouldn’t impede your normal day to day activities. It’s safe to exercise with some muscle soreness but listen to your body and rest when you need to. If you are experiencing severe or persistent muscle soreness or pain, it is important to consult your doctor. Luckily the saying ‘no pain, no gain’ is now well and truly outdated!
Caroline & Hannah xx