Did you know national quitters day was 14th January? If you set yourself a new year's intention to hit the gym more and are still going strong, you may be experiencing aching muscles after working out - it’s normal, your body is getting used to the new exercise.
The aching feeling after a workout, that John Wayne feeling is known as DOMS - delayed onset muscle soreness. Whether you are a beginner or an athlete, we can all experience DOMS throughout our exercise journey, but don’t let it put you off, in this article we will explore ways to help reduce DOMS and to aid your recovery.
What is DOMS?
So other than knowing that John Wayne feeling after a workout - where you know about exercising the day after when you roll out of bed, sit down on the toilet, or climb the stairs but what actually is DOMS? Delayed onset muscle soreness is caused by microtears in your muscles (1). You have probably heard the phrase “no pain, no gain”, well in terms of exercise that isn’t totally true, you can have an effective workout without pushing yourself to your limits, however as a beginner your body may ache more afterwards as your muscles adapt and try and keep up with your new exercise routine. The aching becomes less as your body gets used to it, until you then progress the workout type, intensity or duration. Whilst you don’t want all workouts to be too challenging, if they become easy you may reach a plateau point and stop seeing the results you want.
How can a warm up help reduce DOMS?
Do you do a warm up before you workout? If you are skipping a warm up you could be adding to your DOMS. A warm up is great not only for your body but also for your mind to prepare for the exercises ahead. Studies have shown that a warm up can help with DOMS (2); including 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching and light cardio into your warm up prepares the body for more intense exercise helping to reduce the severity of DOMS by raising your heartbeat, improving your blood flow and warming up the muscles. In addition to reducing DOMS a warm up can also help to reduce injuries (3).
How can I treat DOMS?
Despite a good warm up, a new workout routine or increased intensity can cause DOMS, but here are some ways to handle it:
Apply Heat - Do you take a bath or hot shower after exercising? Heat is a great tool for recovering after exercise. Heat opens up blood vessels, allowing blood and oxygen to reach the affected muscles faster, and helps muscles to relax (4,5). Run a nice long bath or use a heat pad or hot water bottle to soothe those aching muscles.
Keep It Cold - Cold treatments work just as well as warm ones: this has been shown through athletes and ice baths. If like us you don’t have an ice bath at home don’t worry ice packs will reduce swelling.
Have A Massage - Multiple studies have shown that massages are a great way to reduce muscle soreness. The same studies found that a massage is most beneficial 48 hours post workout. So treat yourself to a good massage to ease your muscle soreness, or try a self-massage. Apply some oil and knead, squeeze, and gently shake your muscles, focus on your legs, buttocks, arms, and shoulders (1,3). If a regular massage is not an affordable option, foam rollers are a great way to help reduce DOMS.
Written by Jade Mottley - Human Nutrition MSc & Sport Science BSc
Researched by Sophie O’Neill - BA Creative Writing student & intern at Performance