Updated: Feb 26
Suffering from that aching, stiff muscle feeling after exercising yesterday? That'll be DOMS, or Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness, which is exactly what it sounds like. Great.
Before you despair, it is actually a good sign (although not always a welcome one). DOMS signals that your muscles are repairing themselves to be even stronger than they were before. The pain comes from your muscles' micro-tears as well as an accumulation of waste chemicals - both a result of exercise and both completely normal.
Knowing this is helpful, but it doesn't take away the pain. Here are a few things you can do to improve DOMS in your arms or legs once you get them*.
A warm bath is great to warm up muscles once DOMS strikes. Adding Epsom Salts can also aid recovery thanks to the magnesium, which is absorbed through the skin and helps to relax the muscles.
Rubbing the sore area stimulates blood flow and will warm the muscle simultaneously. Do this with some body oil or in the shower to speed up the process and don't be afraid to get stuck in with your thumbs or knuckles.
It's important to get fresh, oxygenated blood to your tired muscles to aid their recovery. Staying hydrated will help you do this, and assist with flushing away the waste chemicals left over from your workout.
Sleep is key, as it's the body's time to do major repair work. Aim for 7 hours of good quality sleep if you can, and try to unwind before getting into bed. I find a lavender pillow mist and guided meditations are great to send me off into a deep sleep.
While it might seem counterintuitive, moving your body when it's stiff from DOMS can be a great aid in reawakening the muscles and reducing any aches. Stretches and walking are active enough to engage the muscles, warm them up and send fresh blood while not being too vigorous and prolonging recovery.
While the above can help speed up recovery from DOMS, it's always advised to stay well hydrated, stretch before and after workouts and do a warm up and cool down to bring the muscles back to their natural state. These can prevent getting DOMS in the first place, but if you're working out for the first time in a while, trying a new form of exercise or upping the weights, know that DOMS is normal and a healthy sign of muscle growth.
If you have persistent DOMS of a week or more, please speak to your GP to check there's no underlying issues and / or review your current training routine to ensure you're not overloading your body.
*remember, everyone recovers at different rates