Understanding Post-Workout Muscle Soreness

by Matt Weik

Regardless of whether you’re a beginner doing your first workout or an experienced lifter on a strict regimen, one thing you will encounter is post-workout muscle soreness. If you’re pushing yourself, you can count on experiencing some sort of soreness following a grueling workout.

Muscle soreness, in this instance, is also known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is the pain and stiffness that occurs in your muscles following a workout that might not show until the following day or even two days after a workout. This post-workout muscle soreness can last as little as a day or span across several days, depending on how much you stressed the muscle during your workout.

But what exactly is post-workout muscle soreness, what causes it, and how can you help alleviate some of the discomfort you experience? This article will break down all those topics and give you a better understanding of DOMS and muscle recovery.

What is Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness?

Have you ever experienced soreness that comes on suddenly after a tough workout — generally 24-48 hours after? Or all of a sudden wake up with a muscle ache that lingers for days on end? You’re not alone. In fact, this muscle soreness is called delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. It is a normal part of training and will happen to you no matter what your fitness level is. More importantly, it is a sign that you thoroughly taxed your muscle fibers.

While some people can tax their muscles and not really feel any sort of post-workout muscle soreness, they aren’t the norm.

A muscle that’s been stressed and damaged (meaning, creating micro-tears in the muscle fibers) will have a harder time repairing itself than a rested muscle. As a result, the process of repairing that stressed muscle tissue after you’ve worked it out takes longer than it would if the muscle hadn’t been worked and stressed at all. This is why you’re more sore the day after a hard workout than you are the day after taking a day off or doing a low-intensity workout.

Post-workout muscle soreness can range from minor to severe, depending on the intensity, duration, and type of exercise you performed, as well as your conditioning level. For example, if you do high-intensity training for the first time, you’ll probably be pretty sore for two to three days afterward. Soreness from running a marathon won’t last nearly as long but will be more intense at first.

What Causes Post-Workout Muscle Soreness?

Post-workout muscle soreness is a natural part of exercise, although it can be annoying and even painful at times. It’s important to understand the common causes of muscle soreness so that you help minimize it.

Here are some reasons you may be feeling post-workout muscle soreness:

Tight Muscles: After working out, your muscles have been put through a stressful experience. They’re going to be tight and stiff as they recover.

• Lactic Acid: When your muscles go through strenuous work, they start to build up lactic acid in the muscle tissue. The build-up of lactic acid is what causes that burning sensation you feel while exercising.

Inflammation: Exercise can also bring on inflammation in the muscle tissue, which is why you may feel pain when you move certain muscles or, even worse, when you touch them.

What Helps Relieve Post-Workout Muscle Soreness?

Muscle soreness is part of the healing process as your body repairs itself from the damages caused by exercise. The healing process can be quick, or it can take days, depending on how intense your workout was and how frequently you’re training. But what can you do to help relieve post-workout muscle soreness?

Here are some tips to help you get through DOMS:

1. Hydrate

Although it may seem like drinking water would be a bad idea when your muscles already feel inflamed and damaged from exercise, dehydration can actually make post-workout muscle soreness worse. Drinking enough water to stay well hydrated will help your muscles recover faster from your workout so that you can get back in the gym and train the muscle group again.

2. Rest

Post-workout muscle soreness can happen even when you don’t engage in heavy lifts. In these cases, it is important that you rest well for a day or two so that the muscles can naturally rebuild the torn-down muscle fibers. You should also avoid doing strenuous activities during this time so as not to worsen your soreness.

3. Massage

Massaging the affected muscle can help ease the muscle soreness by increasing blood flow. This helps lessen the ache and speeds up healing and tissue repair. You can also do ice massage, as this is quite effective. It can be done by using an ice pack wrapped in a towel and gently massaging the affected area. This helps relax the muscles and reduce pain and inflammation, which is essential for faster recovery following intense workouts.

4. Heat

Applying heat to your body may also help with post-workout muscle soreness. It is one of the best remedies for easing muscle pain you may be experiencing as it helps improve blood flow to the area.

How to Help Prevent DOMS

• A proper warm-up before exercise is vital as it helps reduce DOMS as well as increase blood flow and oxygen exchange in muscles. This helps prevent lactic acid build-up that causes post-workout muscle soreness.

• Diet is another crucial factor in moving toward complete muscle recovery. A proper diet will ensure that you get enough protein and nutrients to recover from intense workouts.

• DOMS can be prevented to a large degree by incorporating other types of training into your routine. The leg press and squat, for example, are great for minimizing soreness in the lower back and hamstrings when done with good form.

• Also, remember that water is the best thing you can do for your muscles after stressing them during a workout. The more water you drink, the better they may feel the next day.

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