It can start at any moment: perhaps as your rouse yourself from sleep, or while you’re sitting in your overly gray cubicle. You might not even notice a change until you go to wash your hair or put on your shoes. Without warning, it can happen to you: sore muscles. And boy howdy, do they hurt! In fact, muscle soreness can make you pretty uninspired to do much in the way of exercise, and give the impression that you probably should consider hanging up your sneakers in favor of far less pain-inducing activities, like learning about SEO or practicing peeling oranges.
Well, shake that lack of inspiration out of your ears and listen up! One of the best ways to treat muscles that are sore and tired defies how you’re feeling (and will make you roll your eyes at me); push back at that pain by working out! Seriously. Take time to utter a soft groan, and then read on.
Here’s the scoop: that weary and achy feeling you get between 24 and 48 hours after working out actually has a fancypants name: delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS for exercise physiologists and other sports-related professionals. According to David O. Draper, professor and director of the graduate program in sports medicine/athletic training at Brigham Young University, “Delayed onset muscle soreness is a common result of physical activity that stresses the muscle tissue beyond what it is accustomed to.” In other words, whether you’re just starting an exercise program or when you push yourself differently than usual, your muscles react by strengthening. Think of the pain you’re feeling as growing pains. You didn’t get taller without a little discomfort, and you’re not going to get stronger or healthier without the same.
Suggesting you continue to work out doesn’t mean you perform a super-star run, wake up two days later in pain and do the same thing. Instead, your best bet is to vary the sort of exercise you do, using different muscles and offering a variety of impact. Switching up your workout is what athletes call “cross training.” You might go for a run one day, head to the rowing machine the next, and take a yoga class the day after that. The important part is to keep moving, and keep your body energized. Taking a break for two days after every workout won’t effectively help your body adjust to more and more exercise and strength training.
A few notes to consider:
1. Don’t mistake an injury with DOMS.
How? According to Elizabeth Quinn, “Delayed soreness is also unlike the acute, sudden and sharp pain of an injury such as a muscle strains or sprain that occurs during activity and often causes swelling or bruising. The delayed muscle soreness of DOMS is generally at its worst within the first 2 days following a new, intense activity and slowly subsides over the next few days.” If the pain you’re experiencing is immediate, lingering, and causing issues while you’re trying to brush your teeth or making you limp on your walk to work, you’re looking at an injury. DOMS will hurt, but it’s not impossible to get through your day, and the pain gets better, not sticking around or worse.
2. Prevention Treatment
Like all good health-care, focusing on preventative treatment to help keep DOMS at bay is a great way to feel fabulous. Not all these ideas work for every budding athlete, so try a few to see what works best: warming up slowly, cooling down, stretching after warm-up, incorporate yoga into your routine, and don’t raise your level of fitness too quickly — in other words, be responsible with how much you up your routine. Hopping in the pool and swimming three miles your first time out won’t make you stronger; it will just get you hurt.
For me? I mix up high-impact and low-impact forms of exercise (like running, swimming, and using the rowing machine) to keep different muscles moving and to distribute effort. A hard game of soccer means the next morning, I take it easy on myself. And yes, sometimes I even try to rest. Finally, I remind myself that if I don’t give myself a mild case of DOMS, I’m probably doing something wrong.