Admit it: you secretly love sore muscles. It’s that hard-earned, painful proof that you actually put some serious work in the gym. But some soreness in your muscles isn’t simply a reward for that 30-minute workout—they might also mean that you straight-up sent your muscles into shock. In case it’s not clear, that’s not good.
This condition has little, if anything, to do with building up muscle. Instead, it’s actually the result of small tears in muscle fiber that combine with an inflammatory process to result in pain. The significant muscle soreness that typically occurs around 24 to 48 hours after your workout is called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.
If you haven’t noticed it yet, you’ll feel this type of discomfort after more unfamiliar and challenging exercises. The symptoms? Muscle soreness. The decrease in the speed of muscle contractibility. Overall lack of strength. Muscle stiffness.
If you’ve experienced this before, or are experiencing it now, try these tips to help you speed up that recovery and get back in the gym again.
Most of us ignore this little but important advice: always do a cool down routine after your workout. Whether you ran 10 kilometers or played basketball for two hours, you need to gradually slow down your muscles before resting.
A 2018 study on active recovery found that runners who spent time at a 50% decrease in activity at the end of their laps (instead of resting immediately) were able to go three times longer on their second run. The researchers believe it had to do with better blood flow, which reduced blood lactate, the metabolic byproduct that makes your muscle sore.
You may feel like you only want compression gear for the sole purpose of looking badass and also showing off all the work you’ve put in. But it actually does what its name suggests.
A 2014 study found that compression gear reduces muscle soreness and makes muscle recovery that much faster by actually constricting your muscles and preventing fluid buildup after your workout while consistently increasing blood flow.
Hot and cold
Heating pads increase blood flow by opening up your blood vessels and then flushing out byproducts or inflammation-related muscle soreness out of the muscles. Adding an ice pack to the mix may be the perfect combination.
In a 2015 study, researchers found that using both heat and ice packs prevented elastic tissue damage. It’s advised to apply ice for 20 minutes after exercising, then applying heat packs for the same amount of time. This is an effective regimen to help address muscle soreness following a hard day at the gym.
Post-lift protein and antioxidants
You think they only refuel your muscles, but protein (and your fave protein shakes) do a lot more than that.
A 2017 study found that protein helps in the recovery of muscle function in the 24 hours following a workout. Adding antioxidants to that meal improves recovery even more than they already do. So, aim to load up on protein like chicken (breasts) or fish, and antioxidant-rich foods like kale and pomegranates in the hours after a pain-inducing workout.
Come on, if you didn’t see it on this list, you’d be filling up the comments section. Obvious as it is, massages actually really help get rid of sore muscles.
In a 2012 study, researchers found that a post-workout massage significantly reduces pain by slowing down the release of cytokines, compounds that cause inflammation in the body. While that’s happening, the massage stimulates mitochondria in cells, promoting cell function and repair. Now that’s a happy ending if we’ve ever seen one.