Depending on your training history, you’ve probably experienced or still experience muscle soreness. It is a normal adaptation of your muscle tissue, and tendons to mechanical stress. Muscle soreness is mainly related to connective and muscle tissue damage, and not lactic acid buildup as I already explained here.
Muscle soreness seems to be highly individual for what I can see, but there are a few strategies that can help you get rid of muscle soreness faster than just leaving it go away by itself.
Muscle soreness can be a barrier between you and the next workout, if it hurts too much. I missed some workouts in the past because I was unable to get inside a gym, and do a normal workout. This happened because I didn’t know how to relieve muscle soreness at that time.
I want you to know this fact: Muscle soreness is not a direct component of muscle growth. Research shows that muscle growth is not related to muscle soreness. You can do workouts that generate a lot of muscle soreness, but it won’t help you gain more muscle mass. You can do workouts that give you little to no muscle soreness but still help you grow muscle mass.
I wanted to write a guide on muscle soreness because I’ve seen too many crap articles floating around, giving general advice about muscle soreness, without enough evidence to sustain their claims.
If you want to know the in-depth details about delayed onset muscle soreness aka DOMS, I wrote an in depth article about it.
What Exercises To Reduce Muscle Soreness Are Nonsense?
The most general advice I can hear is: “Stretch your muscles to get rid of muscle soreness”. In theory, it might sound good but in practice, research shows that stretching is not effective against muscle soreness. It doesn’t offer you any positive effects against muscle soreness even if you do it before and after exercise.
Anti-inflammatory drugs can help with muscle soreness, but they can also stunt your muscle growth. This is true in the case of ibuprofen and acetaminophen. And I wouldn’t use anti-inflammatory drugs to cope with muscle soreness. I hate medication, and I am a true believer of using your body’s resources, and supplements, to cope with muscle soreness.
Probably the biggest pile of nonsense I’ve ever heard is ice bathing to reduce DOMS. Almost every article on reducing muscle soreness talks about taking ice baths. Who the heck is crazy enough to do them?
Why suffer through that nonsense if it doesn’t work. How do I know it doesn’t work?
Research shows that ice baths are useless for reducing muscle soreness. The same is true with homeopathy, cryotherapy, ultrasound and electrical machines. They don’t work. Don’t bother to waste money, time, and pain on them.
Muscle Soreness Recovery That Works
- Workout light and build over time – If you are a beginner, the easiest strategy you can take to avoid muscle soreness is to start with light weights and low volume. This means you’ll just try to get used to weights without breaking yourself down. Go inside a gym, move your body for around 30 minutes, and get out. Don’t trash yourself. Consequently, if you are past beginner phase, take your warm-ups in consideration. Start low, and gradually increase weights. Again, don’t trash yourself. Muscle soreness is not an indicator of muscle growth.
- Do some active recovery – Research shows that active recovery can help you relieve muscle soreness. What is active recovery? It’s a simple workout that’s easier compared to your normal workout that caused the soreness. For me, active recovery means another gym session the next day at which I train at about 50% of my normal weights. I keep the same repetition and set scheme, but I keep the intensity at 50%. You can choose swimming, jogging, walking, simple bodyweight exercises. Whatever makes you feel better after you finish it.
- Do a proper warmup – As already stated, muscle soreness is mainly an issue of connective tissue damage. If I ever get it the next day, I take my warmups seriously. The majority of soreness I feel the next day is gone by the time I finish my warmup session. It gets even better when I use higher frequency training. Higher frequency training means I am training my muscles more frequently. You should try it too!
- Foam rolling all the way – While foam rolling is mainly used for mobility and flexibility, it seems it can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, and increase range of motion. A foam roller is inexpensive nowadays. Buy one if you must.
- Go get a massage – Research shows that massage is effective in relieving delayed onset muscle soreness by almost 30%. Oh well, it might not seem much but if you just went through a crossfit workout that left you sore as hell, those 30% might be the difference between walking normally or walking like a crippled old guy. And the best thing about massage is not the muscle soreness reduction. It’s about relaxing your muscles, feeling better, and embracing relaxation.
- Try yoga – While I never tried yoga myself, it appears that yoga training seems to reduce the peak DOMS after a workout. Not only that but yoga also helps with mobility and flexibility. At least three positive outcomes from trying yoga. I realize you might not even consider doing yoga but research shows it works so I put it here.
- Improve your muscle recovery – this is not easy but it is a long term strategy. You can increase your recovery with a few strategies: increase your protein intake before and after exercise, don’t go with low carohydrate diets if you are looking to improve recovery, sleep at least 7-8 hours every night because it helps with muscle recovery, supplement with creatine because it reduces doms.
- Supplement with Carnitine – Research shows that supplementing with carnitine has muscle recovery properties. This means less DOMS the next day.
- Supplement with Citrulline Mallate – Last time I tried Citrulline Malate before a heavy training session, it improved my recovery and reduced the DOMS with around 40-50%. That’s a huge increase for me. Research shows that Citrulline Malate can enhance anaerobic performance, and reduce DOMS. It is definitely on my list of to-use supplements whenever I get muscle soreness.
- Supplement with electrolytes – while this is more related to muscle cramps, I thought you might want to hear this strategy to reduce them. It might also help with DOMS. Low carbohydrate diets cause more muscle cramps compared to usual diets. These diets cause electrolytes losses, and this can cause fatigue, more DOMS, and muscle cramps. You can somewhat avoid this by supplementing with potassium, magnesium, and some extra sodium.
These are my top 10 strategies to reduce and prevent muscle soreness that I use any time I need to. They are simple, easy to do, and practical.
Now, I want you to do something. Share this article with your friends, and let me know in the comments below if you tried any of these strategies. Now you know how to keep muscles from getting sore. Also, do you know other strategies that can help with muscle soreness? Let me know.
Stay away from nonsense,