Whether you’re trying something new or just getting back into your pre-summer fitness gym routine, be prepared to deal with some muscle soreness. For newbies and seasoned athletes alike, delayed onset muscle soreness (shortened to DOMS) comes with the territory of improving fitness. Setting in 24 to 48 hours after a workout, this is the ‘good’ pain referred to in the overused slogan “no pain, no gain.”
It’s easy to get discouraged when DOMS hits, especially if it’s so severe it keeps you out of the fitness center for a few days and makes everyday tasks seem twice as hard (stairs after leg day, anyone?). Remember that soreness is a sign your muscles are adapting and changing to the new challenges you’re giving them. In other words, soreness = results! In the meantime, here are some tips for dealing with the dreaded DOMS.
1. Always Cool Down and Stretch
If you’re tight on time, it’s tempting to complete your workouts full-throttle and then rush out, but you’ll regret it later. Taking five to ten minutes at the end of every workout to cooldown and stretch your muscles back out will help them recover faster — with less soreness — before your next session.
2. Stay in Motion, But Take It Easy
After new workouts, it might be hard to even get out of bed the next day. Muscle soreness will always be the worst after long periods of inactivity – a good clue about what you can do to help it. Instead of curling up on the couch, get moving. Lighter activities like walking, swimming or yoga will help you regain mobility without taxing your muscles so you can feel better faster.
3. Work Other Muscle Groups
DOMS is one reason bodybuilders rotate the days they work various muscle groups. While one muscle group is recovering, another is ready for its next challenge. If your legs are especially sore a few days after lifting heavier weights, focus on upper-body moves while they recover. If everything is too sore, it might be time for a rest day.
4. Rest, Ice, Massage, Heat, Medication
To further speed recovery and improve your comfort level, use a variety of simple therapies. If your muscles are inflamed, ice can relieve swelling; if they’re tight and achy, massage and heat can loosen and relieve them (a warm Epsom salt bath might be just the thing). If you’re especially sore, it’s okay to use anti-inflammatory medicines, but don’t make it a habit. Some inflammation is good because it’s how your body gets stronger, and pain-relievers can be hard on your liver and other organs.
Although it’s never fun at the moment, remember that soreness is okay – it means your workouts are really working! You may not be able to see visible results for a while, but soreness is the ‘deposit’ that guarantees you’ll be receiving a full return on the time you’ve invested in yourself. Follow these tips and embrace the pain!