If you love to move your body in new and challenging ways, then you’ll be pretty familiar with DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. And you'll be familiar with the pain that can come with it.
The ache and soreness of your muscles post-workout can be a literal pain in the behind, but we’ve got some quick hacks and ways to ease your DOMS if you’re feeling particularly uncomfortable.
DOMS can strike between 24 - 72 hours following a workout or exercise class that works new muscle groups in the body, or at a higher exertion than usual. If you’re not familiar with what exactly DOMS is and want to check out why it’s happening to you, then shoot over to our DOMS exploration.
Although we can’t rid you of them completely, we’ve got some ways to ease your DOMS. From taking precautions prior to your workout to soothing the worked muscles, see how we can make your day a little less "ouch".
10 ways to ease your DOMS
What you can do to ease your DOMS prior to your workout
Hitting a challenging HIIT workout? Returning to exercise after a break? New to exercise or a certain workout class? There are some precautions you can take before your workout if you have a feeling that you may suffer from sore muscles afterwards.
1. Take time to do proper warm-ups and cool-downs
Prepare your body before your workouts to help increase blood flow to your muscles and loosen them up - this will reduce the risk of injury and should help reduce muscle soreness. If you're impatient to get stuck into your session, it may seem like an annoyance, but light cardio (i.e. a brisk 5- 10 minute walk) followed by light stretching can assist in preparing your muscles without causing much fatigue.
A cool-down is equally as important - don’t rush out of your class!
Reducing your heart rate and breathing gradually cools your body temperature. It will give your muscles time to return to their normal length and increase blood flow to the exercised muscles which can help avoid soreness. Stretching is highly recommended after a workout as well.
2. Wear compression activewear
As you vigorously workout, muscle groups can become inflamed which can lead to swelling and then pain. By wearing some pretty nifty compression activewear during your training, your muscles will be constricted, reducing the fluid buildup which will help combat the swelling of your muscles.
New science shows that tights might be the answer to your post-exercise aches. It's been found that marathon runners who continued to wear their compression tights for 24 hours after the race were left feeling less sore! So if it works for those epic long-distance runners, then it should work for us.
3. Know your limits
If you’re new to exercise or a particularly intense workout, know your limits and don’t push yourself beyond your capabilities. Sure, the harder you work, the closer you will get to your fitness goals, but you should build yourself up to a new, harder level.
Don’t smash it as hard as you can in your hurry to get to your goals faster.
Fitness is a gradual process - you don’t want to cause extreme discomfort after your first session, as feeling severely demoralised from acute post-workout aches can really suck the motivation out of your system.
4. Keep moving on your rest days
If you’re trying to keep to a tight workout schedule, DOMS can scupper your plans. Your strength won’t be at its maximum and you may find you can’t keep up in your usual sessions and reps due to screaming muscles.
As DOMS hit 24 - 72 hours post-workout, try to time your rest days to coincide. But don’t take that to mean a lie down on the sofa!
Keep moving on your rest days and participate in light activity for active recovery. Swimming, stretching, yoga, brisk walks - keep the body moving and keep that nutrient-rich blood pumping to the muscles in need.
Top ways to ease your DOMS after your workout:
So you’ve done all you can to avoid DOMS after your workout, but you’re still suffering from soreness after your training? Try these post-workout soothers and see which one works the best for you.
1. Get familiar with a foam roller
Foam rolling (also known as self-myofascial release) is widely used in the fitness world. From top athletes to regular gym-goers, this simple yet nifty bit of kit can provide top recovery.
Applying pressure to specific points in the body using your own body weight on top of a roller can help release muscle tightness or trigger points (commonly known as ‘knots’). This self-massage technique will loosen the muscles and help return them to normal function.
Do note though that this isn’t a relaxing massage - you will experience some discomfort. But it will increase blood flow to your muscles and create better mobility, all of which can aid recovery.
See some of the best foam rollers on the market and how to use them.
2. Pain relief creams, balms and patches
If you feel incredibly uncomfortable with your DOMS, avoid taking painkillers. These can dull your pain receptors so you're more likely to risk injury if you power through another workout. Use alternatives, such as creams, balms and heat patches.
Try the zinging sensation of Tiger Balm or drugstore creams such as Deep Heat. When in discomfort, apply liberally (don’t get it in any, erm, sensitive areas though) and let the potion sink into your muscles. Why not even try a Deep Heat patch for particularly problematic areas!
3. Sink into an Epsom Salt Bath
A bath really does solve a multitude of sins. After a hard day, sinking into a bubble bath can provide much-needed relaxation… but why not switch the bubbles for Epsom Salts after a particularly hard workout?
Epsom Salt has been used for 100’s of years to ease aches and pains. When dissolved in warm water, it breaks down into magnesium (which we all know is key to muscle recovery and reduction of inflammation) and sulphate. The magnesium helps with muscle regeneration and flushes out lactic acid buildup in the muscles. But remember, lactic acid is not the cause of DOMS. It’s to do with micro-tears within the muscles.
Soak yourself for 15 minutes to let your skin absorb as much as it can, but no longer or you will risk reabsorbing the toxins eliminated by the Epsom salt.
4. Put yourself in hot water
As mentioned above, baths are the way to help you unwind and destress, both mentally and physically. A steaming hot bath post-workout can help your DOMS as it will dilate blood vessels that promote blood flow and help muscles relax.
Hot baths can improve your circulation, however, you’ll need to be in hot water for a decent amount of time in order for the deep tissue to benefit… but who’s going to complain about having to take an hour-long hot bath?
5. An intense ice bath (if you dare)
Alternatively, you can turn the temperature way down and plunge into an icy cold bath. The cooler temperatures reduce inflammation and swelling by reducing the blood flow to the muscles in pain.
It is controversial whether it can diminish the feeling of DOMS, but studies have shown that ice-cold baths are better than nothing (i.e. lying on the sofa). Even if it could potentially be a placebo effect…
Want to try an ice bath? Use cold water from the tap with some trays of ice cubes, and submerge yourself within 20 minutes of the exercise. But be aware of the shock cold water can have on the body - it’s not for everyone!
You could also try Contrast Water Therapy (CWT) to treat the pain. Submerge yourself in cold water to contract the blood vessels, then move to warmer waters so the veins expand to overcompensate, bringing a rush of blood filled with nutrients to help injured tissues recover.
6. Eat right!
Healthy eating and fitness go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other and expect to hit your fitness goals, so be sure to fill your belly with the right nutrients that will give you energy, strength and the healing powers to reduce any DOMS!
Whey protein-rich foods: cottage cheese, quinoa, beef, yoghurt
Anti-inflammatory foods: Manuka honey, nuts (almonds and walnuts in particular), seeds, green leafy vegetables, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, olive oil.
Antioxidant foods: Turmeric, green tea, pecans, kidney beans, Goji berries
Magnesium-rich foods: dark green leafy veggies, such as spinach, whole grains (brown rice and whole wheat bread), beans and nuts, avocados.
Omega-3 fatty acids: salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines
DOMS is a way of life, but there are some ways to reduce the intensity. Follow our above tips and tricks and see if you notice a difference next time you hit a workout hard!
And remember, don’t push yourself to a level that will put you at risk of injury. Take care of yourself - fitness is a journey and there’s no need to rush it faster than is possible!