Delayed onset muscle soreness, also known as DOMS, is just one of those things that you’re going to have to deal with whether you like it or not. After a hard workout, your muscles may ache roughly 24 – 48 hours later.
The general symptoms are stiffness, muscle aches and pains, muscle swelling, and fatigue. It’s not a reflection of one’s athleticism or training experience if you don’t have DOMS.
Even athletes who train daily may experience muscle soreness the next day if they try new exercises or a new fitness program. Some people look forward to this pain because they believe that the soreness is an indicator that their workout was effective. This is not true.
Soreness in your muscles is caused by microscopic tears in the muscles and inflammation due to muscles that have been overworked. Bodybuilders may look at it as a sign of future muscle growth… but even cardio activities can cause DOMS. So, that’s debatable too.
What’s important is that you not let muscle soreness make you quit on your fitness program. Below, you’ll find a few pointers you should be aware of.
Train at 30% of your max level
If you’ve led a sedentary lifestyle for years, you’ll need to be extra cautious when embarking on a fitness program. You may have heard of sayings like, “Go hard or go home”.
Rest assured that if you go hard during your first workout after years of not exercising, you’re definitely going to end up stuck at home in a lot of pain for days.
DOMS can last anywhere from 1 to 6 days. So, when you’re first starting to exercise, your first workout should be at about 30% of your maximum intensity.
This will help you break a sweat and get your blood pumping, but it will not leave you in pain the next day. Some people may experience DOMS even at 30% intensity. Imagine if you went at full intensity!
So, train intelligently. Every day, aim to increase your intensity by about 5 percent. In a week or two, your body will be used to the new active lifestyle and will be less likely to experience DOMS too fast.
You can then train harder and faster.
Coping with DOMS
Generally, DOMS peaks at the 1 to 3-day mark, after which it gradually subsides on its own. You may soak in Epsom salts or get a massage to make you feel better, but these don’t really accelerate healing.
If the pain is causing you discomfort, you may take over-the-counter pain relief medication like aspirin or ibuprofen. Generally, it shouldn’t reach this stage if you went slower on your first few workouts.
Some people prefer to use pre-workout muscle rub or wear compression socks during a workout to prevent DOMS. Others stretch and cool down more. Some use a foam roller to massage their muscles after a workout.
All these may help to some degree. You may try them out and see for yourself.
Training on the pain can help
It may seem ridiculous to suggest that one should train on the pain. It’s important to know how to differentiate pain from DOMS and pain from a strain or injury. DOMS does NOT occur immediately after a workout.
If you’re working out and suddenly your wrist hurts or your calf muscles cramp up, this is NOT delayed onset muscle soreness. You might have sprained or strained something. It’s best to seek medical help.
Muscles aching the next day after a hard workout the day before is usually DOMS. For example, if your quadricep muscles ache because of all the jumping you did during the previous day’s workout session, sitting around the whole day without moving will not really help.
Instead, if you went for a walk or did squats, it would be more beneficial. It may seem a little torturous to do squats when your thigh muscles already hurt, but you’ll be amazed to find that after 10 to 15 reps, your muscles actually feel better.
The exercise has improved blood flow to the affected muscles and will help accelerate healing.
Work what doesn’t hurt
This is a method used in elite military units where soldiers always need to be in training to stay fit. If your leg muscles hurt, do exercises such as push ups, pull ups, etc.
If your shoulders and arms ache, do squats or lunges or box jumps.
You’re basically training the parts of your body that don’t hurt. This will not only help you get some exercise for the day, but will also keep you on track during your fitness journey.
To conclude, just remember that DOMS is part and parcel of the fitness journey. Everyone experiences it at some point or another.
Take it in stride, cope with it and keep moving forward. Look at the pain from DOMS as weakness leaving the body. You’ll then be motivated to get past it.