How to Deal with DOMS

You know those to-the-grind workouts? The ones where you really push yourself – from higher weight to higher rep to further distances – the volume is UP. Sometimes, these workouts leave us exhausted… and then sore for days to come. For many of us, we really feel the muscle soreness following leg day. We kind of look like Leo Dicaprio in Wolf of Wall Street, because our legs are basically useless. I get the worst DOMS with deadlifts, which is why it is rare for me to deadlift in back-to-back weeks. I tend to favor deadlifting every other week to avoid it!If you’ve been exercising long enough, you’ve probably felt it too. Some think soreness is an indication of success. Is that accurate? Let’s talk delayed onset muscle soreness and how to deal.

What is DOMS?

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the pain and stiffness you feel in your muscles hours or days after new or strenuous exercise.

DOMS is caused by a muscle strain – some muscle fiber damage, but not too serious – often as a result of an unaccustomed exercise.

Acute soreness is soreness experienced during the actual activity. The window people tend to feel DOMS most is 24 to 72 hours after the exercise. Strength training, walking downhill, jogging, step aerobics, jumping and plyometrics can all lead to DOMS. The intensity and duration of the exercise are factors in DOMS onset due to muscle adaptation levels. This muscle soreness a few days after exercise doesn’t have to be debilitating, painful, or long-term.

Studies show that this soreness is not restricted to any particular muscle group, but some people tend to experience it more in certain muscles [1]. Our bodies are all unique!

7 Ways to Deal with DOMS

dealing with DOMS

Try Active Recovery

Personally, this is my favorite method. A short bike ride, some yoga, or a walk with the dog are all considered active recovery. Activities like these, which won’t elevate your heart rate or put too much demand on your muscles, can help speed up the recovery process in some people.

Though more research needs to be done, one study does offer some evidence that moderate aerobic exercise won’t impede recovery from weight training and may help to enhance short-term training effects [2]. Active recovery is an option, but it’s not the only one.

Fuel Your Body Properly

Getting the right food in before and after a workout can help! It’s widely suggested that consuming carbs and protein post-workout can aid in recovery. Carbs help refill glycogen stores. Sweet potato, certain fruits, or oatmeal and whey protein powder tend to be easy, popular options. Whey isolate and a piece of fruit is an easy choice.

If you’re new to lifting, you may be doing too much too soon, but if you’ve been lifting for a while, make sure you’re getting those carbs and protein in after your workout. A 2014 study (among many studies) found that whey protein supplementation may accelerate the muscle regeneration and remodeling process after high-intensity eccentric exercise [3]. Eat right throughout the day, and get in your post-workout protein and carbs – whey, egg whites, etc.

Supplement Properly

I am all about getting the nutrients you need from whole foods. However, there are some supplements that have positive feedback from most dietitians, nutritionists, trainers, and researchers. You may think I am talking about a protein shake, but really, it’s BCAAs. A study done in 2012 showed that BCAAs can curb soreness that is often associated with exercise [4]. BCAAs can play a role in better protein synthesis and in reducing the amount of secondary muscle damage that often accompanies weight training. BCAA’s are also considered okay on Whole30… a somewhat restrictive 30-day program.

Another supplement to consider is omega-3 fatty acids. You can often find this in a fish oil supplement. Several studies report positive effects of omega-3 fatty acids on DOMS [5]. This could be due to the decrease in pro-inflammatory factors.

Get a Massage

Many people believe massages can provide increased blood flow to specific areas and reduce muscle tension. Massages has shown varying results that may be attributed to the time of massage application and the type of massage technique used.

Some researchers have shown decreases in pain associated with DOMS after a massage [6]. A University of Illinois at Chicago study found that massage therapy improves general blood flow and alleviates muscle soreness after exercise [7]. In 2003, 10+ years earlier, another study found massages reduce the intensity of soreness 48 hours after working out [8].

There are a couple studies which study the impact of foam rolling on DOMs [9]. These studies found foam rolling can enhance recovery after DOMS and alleviate some of that muscle tenderness.

If you don’t want to break the bank, give yourself a myofascial release and use a foam roller. There’s also tools out there, like the BFF Miracle Body Buffer and a standard handheld massager (like the ones at Bed, Bath & Beyond, $40).

Cool It Down

Ever wonder why athletes take ice baths? It is a popular way to aid recovery. It’s so popular that you’ll see baseball players and Olympic athletes dunking their bodies and limbs. Lebron James has even attended a cryotherapy clinic (dry). While whole-body cryotherapy (WBC), which involves exposure to extremely cold dry air (below -100°C) in a specialized chamber, doesn’t have the current evidence to support its use for DOMs. It’s hit or miss and could even make pain worse in some people.

A 2012 study found that cold-water immersion, at temperatures of less than 15°C/59°F can reduce soreness by 20% when compared with passive rest [10]. Not enough research has been down as to how active rest compares with cryotherapy, so there is more to be said on this topic. If active rest, such as compression sleeves or ibuprofen, aren’t for you, try an ice bath for 10-20 minutes.

Make It Minty

There’s been quite a bit of buzz lately about essential oils. I haven’t bought in… with one exception: peppermint oil. When you were younger, did you ever use IcyHot? Menthol, one of the ingredients, is made from peppermint (and other mint) oils. One recent study found that the use of peppermint essential oil may decrease the blood lactate level following a workout. The study participants drank 0.05 ml each day for 10 days with mineral water, but you should be able to rub a small amount (slightly diluted) directly on your skin.

Rest Up

From sleeping enough at night, to reducing your intensity in a workout, getting enough rest is crucial to your recover. Quality and length of sleep can affect how well our muscles recover. According to one report, athletes who must train on a daily basis should be encouraged to reduce the intensity and duration of exercise for 1-2 days following intense DOMS-inducing exercise. Another option would be to work around the sore muscles in days following, so that the most affected muscles can recover. Get your rest and allow for your muscles to recover.

Which method is your favorite for dealing with muscle soreness?


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