It’s a familiar feeling for even the most experienced exercisers. A few hours post-training, you first notice stiffness creeping into your muscles. This develops into a dull ache that generally reaches its ‘I-can’t-quite-manage-the-stairs’ peak 24-48 hours later.
DOMS (or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) is a normal physical reaction to targeting new muscle groups or upping your exercise intensity and duration. It’s seen as a sign that you’re making progress with your fitness, so gym bunnies often wear their day-after-workout winces as a badge of honour. You don’t have to though – muscle ache will go away naturally in a matter of days, but there are a few good techniques to soothe the soreness in the meantime. You may even reduce your recovery time.
After a workout
Every body responds differently, so experiment to discover what works best for you. Many people find that just 10 minutes of post-workout therapy can greatly reduce the next day’s aches and pains.
Also known as self-myofascial release (SMR), foam rolling is a great tool for working out the knots in your muscles. Like a large rolling pin, you can smooth out any particularly tense and knotted muscles by rolling across a long foam cylinder. Try and hold the roller in the spot where you feel the most soreness for a few seconds until the tension eases. If you don’t have a foam roller, try SMR with a tennis or squash ball, as these can get even deeper into your muscle tissues. It might feel tender at first, but foam rolling can work wonders in minutes.
The footballer’s favourite. Applying ice packs to specific areas can help stave off muscular tension caused by exercise. By icing a muscle you decrease the blood flow to the area, thus reducing any swelling or inflammation. Some people find it helps to alternate cold and hot therapies, so try heat pads or warm, wet towels. Be careful not to overdo it: ice packs should be in place no more than 20 minutes at a time, while heat pads should be limited to 15 minutes.
Studies have shown that dark fruit and berries, such as cherries and blueberries, help reduce post-workout aches and pains because they speed up the process of eliminating any toxins built up during exercise. Protein-rich foods like eggs help repair tissues, while omega-3-packed fish, such as salmon, have soothing anti-inflammatory properties. And always remember the golden rule of exercise: stay hydrated.
The following days
Give your muscles time to heal; listen to your body, and don’t push yourself too hard again in the gym until your aches subside. However, if you feel up to it, some gentle exercise can help recovery.
Soak in the tub
Long, warm baths in the days following an intense workout can help relieve aches and pains by loosening tight muscles. Sprinkle in some Epsom salts too – athletes have been swearing by them for centuries.
Foam rolling does a great job of easing tension in the same way a deep-tissue massage will, but sometimes only the real thing will do. Treating yourself to a good sports massage the day after especially strenuous exercise like a tough HIIT session or a long run can get you back in the gym faster.
Some soreness after exercise is normal, but if you’re in pain for more than a week afterwards, we suggest seeking expert help.