How To Improve Muscle Soreness After Exercise: Understanding DOMS

a woman wearing black active wear holding her waist

Muscle soreness after exercise is a common topic with my new clients as it is common to experience this after starting to build up your exercise level and or intensity.

What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) often occurs a day or two after heavy exercise. DOMS is stiffness, soreness, inflammation and tenderness. This stiffness and soreness is felt in the main muscle groups worked in your last exercise session. It is eccentric movement that causes DOMS. An example of eccentric movement is when you slowly lower your arms in a bicep curl.

You are more likely to feel DOMS if you are new to exercise or when you increase the intensity of your workouts. Gradually ease into your workouts with a proper warm up and increase the intensity of your sessions over time.

Why Does It Happen?

The precise cause of muscle soreness is unknown and there could be a few different factors.

  • Tiny tears in the muscle tissue
  • Osmostic pressure changes that cause fluid retention in the surrounding tissues
  • Metabolites accumulating in the muscle cell producing cell damage and reduced force capacity
  • Acute inflammation
  • Combination of the above
Muscle Soreness After Exercise information on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

Recovery From DOMS

The best thing you can do speed up recovery if you are experiencing DOMS is to keep moving. DOMS isn’t an injury so very low intensity exercise such as walking or swimming will help to loosen the muscles.

Stretching and mobility work will also help, but especially after exercise. This will help to lengthen the muscle fibres and increase the blood flow to the muscles. This increase in blood flow helps to bring vital nutrients and oxygen to the muscles to aid recovery but also flushes out the waste products. Drinking plenty of water and massage will also help with this process.

Warm baths can help to relax the muscles affected and ease the soreness. Adding two cupfuls of magnesium flakes will also help to feed the muscles and replace minerals. Stay in the bath for at least twenty minutes to allow the magnesium to absorb through your skin. My favourite magnesium flakes are from Better You.

Ensure you have plenty of protein in your diet to help feed and repair the muscles. A few spoonfuls of cottage cheese before bed is a great source of protein that acts to repair the muscles while you sleep.

If you struggle to get enough protein in your diet there is the option of protein shakes. These are fast acting and provide your muscles with instant “food” to help kick start the healing process and thereby reduce the severity of DOMS.

Understanding Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

DOMS is not an indicator of an effective workout. The process of getting stronger requires the muscle fibres to breakdown under stress (during a workout). The muscles grow when the body repairs itself (using the building blocks of protein). A useful way to think about it is, if the muscle was bandaging the tiny tears, over time the bandages will build up and get bigger. This process can happen without you feeling any stiffness or soreness so don’t worry if you don’t feel anything after a session.

Published by Aimee Pearce

Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist in Functional Fitness

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