- Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is common when new to strength training.
- It should become less frequent as your body adapts if you’re training in a structured way.
- Light cardio like walking can help ease the pain.
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I’ve been getting into the habit of weight training most days a week for a few months now, but something I’m still struggling with is muscle soreness. What warm-ups and cool-downs do you recommend I do to prevent my muscles from being so sore I can’t walk?
– Strong but Sore
Welcome to the club!
Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is common when new to weight lifting, but the good news is that it should decrease over time as your body adapts.
But keep in mind that DOMS isn’t necessarily the sign of a good workout, so it’s good not to chase that feeling when you step into the gym.
There are things you can do to aid recovery and help with your strength gains.
The causes of DOMS are unclear
If you’re feeling soreness or stiffness in the muscle belly (not in or around the joints, which can be cause for concern), usually peaking around 24 hours after a workout, it’s probably DOMS.
It should usually subside within 48 hours, personal trainer Luke Worthington told Insider, however I remember one bout that lasted four days when I first started strength training.
“We don’t know for certain what the causes of DOMS are,” Worthington said. “Most sports scientists agree that it’s a combination of multiple micro-tears in the muscle proteins, together with localized inflammation.”
It’s perfectly natural and normal though.
“DOMS tends to be exacerbated by sudden increases in either the volume or intensity of training, or new movements that stress muscles through different ranges or different angles,” Worthington said.
That’s why it’s more common for people who increase their training volume or change exercises to experience DOMS.
DOMS should become less frequent
As your body adapts to a new stimulus, DOMS should become less frequent. But this only happens if you’re training in a structured way which allows your muscles to become familiar with movements, Worthington said.
If you’re working out randomly and doing different things each time, DOMS can become a problem because the adaptation phase never occurs, meaning you have “newbie” DOMS every time.
“As well as being very inconvenient for every day life, this also means that we can’t follow one of the fundamental principles of training: progressive overload, which means we can’t really make any progress,” Worthington said.
If DOMS is a consistent and debilitating problem, he advises reassessing your training program, perhaps rotating exercises every 4-6 weeks, and including periods of both high and low intensity and volume.
Walk it off
While waiting for your body to adapt, there are ways you can mitigate DOMS.
Warming up and cooling down properly are important parts of your workout, but Worthington said there’s no evidence to suggest stretching prevents DOMS.
Light cardio can help though.
“Consider several minutes of light cardio using the same muscle groups you worked out to flush out any lactic acid from those muscles,” sports medicine specialist Dr. David Geier told Insider. “For example, maybe you do 5-10 minutes of light rowing after a back and biceps workout, or 10 minutes on an elliptical trainer after a leg workout.”
Low intensity exercise, like a walk, can increase blood flow, which helps transport nutrients to the muscles and moves metabolites, or waste products, away from them, Worthington said.
When we move more in vigorous exercise, our bodies produce more metabolites, which are a natural by-product of exercise, he said. To recover, we need to move more of these metabolites away and provide the muscles with more fuel.
Staying hydrated and refueling well will help, and Geier also recommends massaging out your muscles with a foam roller or percussive therapy device.
The best way to heal those sore muscles?
“Sleep is probably the single most effective recovery tool, and it’s free!” Worthington said.
Wishing you well,
Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips. She regularly speaks to some of the world’s most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she’s always up to date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest and healthiest life.
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