Fitness

Why Your Muscles are Sore After a Workout and How to Prevent It

Here you are...you’ve jumped back into your exercise routine. You’ve done a gym session or gone for a run, and you’re feeling absolutely great!

That is, until you wake up bright and early the following morning.

Your arms ache, your abs ache, your legs are killing you…you feel like you’re never going to be able to take the stairs again, let alone get in for your next workout.

What the heck happened? And what can you do to avoid it in the future?

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Why do your muscles hurt after a workout?

Muscle aches, pains, and soreness are all side effects of the stress put on muscles when you exercise.

This is especially common if you have not worked out in a long time, but not for the reason you think.

Yes, having a break from exercise will lead to some muscle and strength loss, so when you get back into it, you are not as strong as you were before.

But there is another reason that people often overdo it when getting back into fitness. It’s because your brain does not know your new limits.

If you have ever exercised consistently for a long period of time, you know that after a while, you start to know when you can push it, and when you cannot.

Your brain just knows what that limit is, and while it can sometimes be good to push your limits, it is important to know where that line is before attempting to cross it.

When you are just getting back into fitness, your brain has no regulator on it. And so more often than not, you will do way more than you should in that first workout.

When that happens the next day can be rough!

To be fair, this does not always hit the following morning. There is something called “delayed onset muscle soreness,” better known as “DOMS,” and this is where your soreness increases over a 2-3 day period after exercise. You may wake up feeling a little sore the next day, but by the second morning, you are really starting to stiffen up.

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What is delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS?

As mentioned, DOMS usually begins within 6-8 hours after a new activity or a change in activity, and can last up to 24-48 hours after the exercise.

The reason for this is that there are microscopic tears within muscle tissues, which is what you're creating when you work out. The muscle pain is due to inflammation within the muscle, which is one of the main triggers for this muscle soreness.

The pain response is your body's way of signaling to you that repair work is going on and that you'd best leave it be for a few days.

With all that said, it is normal to have some muscle soreness a day or two after a tough workout, especially if you are increasing your exercise intensity or starting on a new sport or exercise.

What you don’t want, however, is to be so sore that you can’t move, or feel like you need pain killers to cope.

Is DOMS good for me? No pain, no gain, right?

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We often wear our DOMS as a badge of honor and believe that if we’re not sore, we’re not doing enough during our workouts. But that’s just not true.

Lack of muscle pain and soreness doesn’t equal a bad workout.

Studies show that soreness itself (using a scale from 0 to 10 to assess the level of soreness) is a poor indicator of muscle adaptation and growth.

There are many factors that influence how DOMS presents itself in individuals, and there is a real variability, even between people with similar genetics and even among highly-trained lifters and athletes.

So, while comparing notes with your training buddies is all part of the process, soreness and DOMS isn’t the best gauge of how effective your workout was or who’s in better shape.

If you experience muscle soreness up to 3 days after working out, it means you’re overdoing it.

How can I prevent muscles aches and soreness?

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There are a number of simple techniques which can really make a difference in preventing and alleviating muscle aches and soreness while still ensuring that you are getting the results you want from your workout.

6 ways to reduce post-workout soreness

1. Warm-up sufficiently before exercise. If you expect to stay safe and keep yourself from hurting, you have to warm up before your workout.

Your best bet is to do a well rounded warm-up that includes each of the following:

      • Foam rolling: Using a massage tool like a foam roller is key to loosening up muscles and also preparing them to move. Spending 3-5 minutes rolling any tight muscles you have is highly recommended.
      • Joint mobility: Joint mobility drills are anything that helps move your joints through a full range of motion. In particular, you want to think about areas that are stuck or that will need to move well in your workout. This could mean working to open up your ankles, hips, shoulders, or wrists before getting started.
      • Stretching: Doing both static (holding a stretch) and dynamic (where you move in and out of a stretch) stretching can be great before starting a workout. NOTE: Usually you will want to stretch those same areas that you worked while on the foam roller.
      • Activation: Once you are all stretched out and moving well, it’s time to wake up your core muscles. Just remember, your core is not just your abs. Your hips are equally important when it comes to controlling motion and preventing injury, which is the whole reason you should want a strong core in the first place.
      • Movement prep: As the final piece of the warmup, it is time to practice the movements that you will be doing in your workout. If you will be doing squats, do a few bodyweight squats to work on the movement pattern and make sure everything is feeling good. If there is still some tightness or difficulty in the motion, you may want to go back and spend a little more time rolling, stretching, or mobilizing so that you feel great before you start adding on weight!

If you want a few ideas to help get you moving in the right direction, CLICK HERE to see a sample warm-up routine put together by our head coach.

2. Foam roll at home. You already know you should roll before a workout, but rolling at home can be a big help as well.

Foam rollers are inexpensive and can be purchased on Amazon, so we strongly recommend getting one. You can use it morning and evening to relieve post-workout aches and pains.

Again, just focus on those areas that are most tight or sore, but don’t think that it has to hurt to help. Just put enough pressure to feel it, but not so much that you think someone is trying to kill you.

A foam roller should be your friend, not your nemesis.

3. Stretch. Another thing you can do outside of your workouts is stretch. This would mean a focus mostly on static stretching where you do slow, gentle stretching of the sore muscles to help relieve that tight feeling and diffuse the pain.

We recommend that you spend 30-90 seconds holding a stretch, or do 3-5 rounds of 10-20 second holds. Whichever feels better to you!

4. Do cardio. A cardio workout increases blood flow and acts as a filter system. It brings nutrients like oxygen, protein, and iron to the muscles that you've been training and helps them recover faster.

As the blood leaves the muscles, it takes some of the metabolic byproducts with it (like carbon dioxide and lactic acid) that may be causing DOMS.

Cardio can be as simple as going for a 30-minute walk or hike, though there are lots of ways to stay active on your off days.

The key, however, is that you are moving. If there is one thing that will keep you sore longer, it is inactivity. So even if you are stiff, movement is good.

5. Drink water. Staying hydrated means it is easier for your body to flush out toxins and repair and replenish. Water is your friend when it comes to getting past soreness.

Of course, we all know we need to drink more water, but the trick is actually doing it. Here are a few strategies you can use to increase your water intake:

      • Drink a cup (or 2) first thing in the morning
      • Carry a water bottle with you and have a goal to finish one before lunch and one before dinner
      • Drink a cup every time you go to the bathroom
      • Have a pitcher on your counter that has all the water you need to drink for the day

The point is to increase your water intake in order to speed up your recovery, so if one of these works for you, great. If not, come up with your own strategy and stick to it!

6. Start slow. This is probably the most critical thing you can do to avoid being overly sore…but it’s also the hardest thing to do. When you start a workout routine, you want to push yourself! You are motivated and want to see results now.

The problem is that your body is not ready and you can overdo it early on in the process. As I mentioned before, your brain doesn’t know your limits when you start up again.

And this is especially true if you used to exercise a lot and have an expectation for what you “should” be able to do.

So, if you really want to avoid hurting after your workouts, just start slow. Do a lot of bodyweight exercises and think of your first week as a warm-up.

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If you can follow these 6 steps, I guarantee you will feel better after your workouts and get better results because of it.

Just remember, getting results is not about intensity, it’s about consistency. The person who is going to get the best results is the one who is able to work out 3x/week for the next year, not the person that went all out in a few workouts and then quit.

So whenever you get back into exercise, just know that your goal is not to get results right away. It is to build the habit of exercise again so that you can work your way up to the workouts that will get you results.

But if you are not so sure what this looks like, or tend to overdo it when you start up again, we can help.

We have developed a 28-Day Kickstart Program where you will get the exact exercises you need to start feeling better, while having a coach to show you how to do them correctly.

Not only that, your coach will also be there to help keep you accountable to your plan so that you don’t fall off track.

In this program you will get:

  • Full fitness and goals assessment
  • Personalized fitness coaching to teach you the exact exercises you need to safely and effectively move better and build stamina
  • A simple meal plan to help you decrease inflammation
  • 1-on-1 success coaching to help guide you as you work to change your diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits

You can feel better, get stronger, and have more energy, you just need a program that is right for you.

Click here to learn more and take back control of your health and fitness today!

Mint Condition Fitness empowers people to take control of their fitness and fully enjoy the life they have built.