The pain you feel 24 to 48 hours after lifting weights is known as delayed onset muscle soreness.
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The first day or two after a new strength-training class or routine can be rough. Not only are you physically tired from exercising, but you're also feeling so sore that it's difficult to even lift your arms or bend down to tie your shoes. This pain you're feeling is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, often referred to as DOMS, and it usually appears 24 to 48 hours after your weight-training session. Ease your muscle soreness after lifting weights with tried-and-true techniques such as foam rolling, light movement and heat therapy.
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Read more: Is It Good to Be Sore the Day After a Workout?
What Is DOMS?
A little bit of soreness or even mild pain during and after a bodybuilding session isn't a bad thing; it just shows that you worked hard while lifting those weights. However, when you quickly increase the intensity or the amount of weight you're lifting, your muscles react accordingly — and that reaction might be painful.
Researchers aren't 100 percent sure what causes DOMS, but the pain can likely be attributed to small tears in the connective tissue around the muscles. As your muscles repair themselves, they get stronger — and that means you're less likely to experience the same amount of soreness the next time you lift weights at that intensity level.
The pain from DOMS usually peaks around 48 hours after heavy exercise and gradually fades around 72 hours after the workout. Delayed onset muscle soreness differs from acute muscle soreness, which is what you feel during and immediately after weight training.
Keep in mind, especially if you're new to weight training, that there's a difference between acute or delayed onset muscle soreness and other types of pain that could indicate something is seriously wrong. If you feel a sharp pain — as opposed to mild soreness — that prevents you from moving a body part, you should visit a doctor. You might have done more damage than you previously realized.
Additionally, pain in an area that's swelling or bruising or that doesn't get better after several days merits a visit to a health care professional. A severe case of DOMS could indicate rhabdomyolysis, a rare but serious condition that's caused by injury to your skeletal muscles. When rhabdomyolysis occurs, potentially toxic compounds are released into the bloodstream, which can lead to dangerous complications such as kidney failure.
Massage and Foam Rolling
If you can swing the cost of a professional massage or have a willing partner who will knead a sore area, massage therapy can certainly help decrease the pain brought on by DOMS. A 2017 review of studies published in Fronts in Physiology determined that massage therapy after intense exercise does wonders for getting rid of DOMS pain, as well as improving muscle performance in the future.
If an actual massage isn't in the cards, the second-best scenario is self-myofascial release, which is the fancy term for giving yourself a massage. This is most easily done by foam rolling. Use the foam roller by positioning the targeted area over the roller and slowly but firmly pressing your body down, pushing on the sore spot for between 30 and 90 seconds. Release the pressure and repeat if necessary. You can also target the sore muscles, such as your calves, by rolling your body over the roller.
A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training in 2015 found that foam rolling for about 20 minutes immediately after exercise, as well as every 24 hours afterward, effectively reduces the symptoms of DOMS.
The stiff foam allows you to put a good amount of direct pressure on sore areas, which helps break down the tightness that can be causing some of the pain. If you have pain in a muscle that's hard to get to with the long, cylindrical shape of a foam roller, use a tennis or lacrosse ball in the same manner to pinpoint the sore muscle.
Read more: Sore Muscles? 8 Tips to Ease the Pain
In addition to foam rolling, vibration can soothe sore muscles caused by heaving weightlifting. Apply a handheld vibration device directly on the sore muscle to increase bloodflow to the area, improve circulation and help the muscle repair itself more quickly.
A study published in 2018 in the Journal of International Medical Research that included more than 250 participants concluded that vibration is a useful form of physiotherapy to reduce the effects of DOMS, though the study authors noted that the effects need more research before it can be definitively stated that vibration wards off muscle soreness.
Food and Beverages
In case you need any more proof that food is integral to athletic performance, consider its effect on DOMS, advises 2014 research published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation:
- Caffeine: The caffeine found in coffee, tea, some colas and chocolate, among other foods and beverages, blocks the adenosine receptor, which can deactivate the central nervous system and can decrease the effects of DOMS.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: The omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish, walnuts and chia seeds might decrease exercise-induced inflammation, which could reduce overall DOMS symptoms.
- Taurine: A number of animal products, such as meat, fish and dairy, contain taurine, and this organic acid that's found in skeletal muscle could have an effect on pain relief when it comes to sore muscles from DOMS, though it's not fully understood how the compound works to lessen the pain.
- Polyphenols: A component of plant-based phytochemicals, polyphenols — specifically, in cherry juice — could reduce inflammation that is related to DOMS pain. Beet juice also contains polyphenols.
Old-fashioned water can help decrease the severity of DOMS too, so drink up to make sure you stay hydrated during and after a heavy workout.
When your body aches from bodybuilding muscle pain, it's tempting to take the day off to recover. Rest days are an important part of a weightlifting routine, allowing those muscles to repair themselves and grow even stronger.
However, a little bit of light exercise, such as taking a walk or hopping on the recumbent bike or elliptical machine, can help decrease the pain from DOMS. If you're really sore, try a swimming workout — the buoyancy of the water might feel soothing on those aching muscles.
The American Council on Exercise says it's safe to exercise when you're experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness, as long as you're not at risk of overtraining or putting undue stress on ligaments or tendons.
Heat and Ice
Both heat and ice therapy have their purposes when it comes soothing muscle pain. Heat increases blood flow to the area, which can decrease pain, while ice reduces swelling and inflammation.
If you're only going to do one, stick to applying heat for about 20 minutes every hour to decrease joint stiffness, reduce tension in the muscles and help heal soft tissue by improving blood circulation in the area. Research published in 2017 in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine determined that applying heat immediately after heavy exercise is effective at reducing soreness, as is applying it 24 hours later, though to a lesser extent.
To apply heat safely, wrap up a heating pad in a towel and apply it directly to the sore area. Make sure not to burn your skin when trying to reduce the pain of DOMS.
Additionally, you can alternate heat and ice after a heavy workout, in an effort to rapidly narrow and widen blood vessels. This technique isn't meant to reduce pain necessarily, but rather reduce swelling and get your muscles back into shape if you need to use them for another workout the next day.
What Not to Do
The fitness industry is rife with myths and legends, including those surrounding how to relieve sore muscles. For example, scientists used to think sore muscles were caused by lactic acid buildup in the muscles, though that's now been proven to be untrue. More than three-quarters of the lactic acid that builds up in your muscles during exercise dissipates within a couple of minutes of ending your workout, according to the ACE Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Institute.
Although the placebo effect is real, meaning that if you think a pain relief method is working, you're likely to feel that relief, there are some long-touted relief methods that aren't likely to actually alleviate much of your soreness.
- Reconsider taking an NSAID: With any type of body ache, it's tempting to reach for the painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, stop the body from creating prostaglandins, which decreases pain and inflammation. However, research hasn't supported the use of NSAIDs in reducing muscle soreness. In fact, a study published in 2012 in Sports Medicine indicated that longer-term NSAID use could be detrimental to muscle growth.
- Hold off on the Epsom salts: You can add Epsom salts to your hot bath water because they feel nice, but don't expect to get any sort of relief out of it. Transdermal magnesium, which is the scientific term for Epsom salts, doesn't have much research backing up its use in the tub.
- Perform dynamic stretches: Dynamic stretches mimic functional movements and can improve mobility and range of motion, but static stretches — the kind where you reach and hold — won't have much of a long-term impact on DOMS.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To avoid the pain of DOMS, be consistent in your weightlifting routine — weekend warriors are the ones most likely to experience DOMS because their muscles aren't adapting to the stress of weightlifting or other exercises.
When you feel yourself getting stronger, increase your weight size gradually; too big a jump is a sure way to feel the ache a day or two later. Other tried-and-true ways to prevent DOMS, rather than treat the pain after the workout, include:
- Finish with a cool down: A cool down brings your heart rate back to its normal level and helps regulate your blood flow, helping to alleviate later muscle soreness.
- Wear compression garments after you lift weights: Research published in 2014 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine determined that wearing compression garments after a workout could help reduce muscle damage and, therefore, the pain of DOMS. A meta-analysis of studies published in 2016 in Physiological Behavior on this same topic confirmed this conclusion.
- Continue to work out: Once your muscles have repaired the tears that caused DOMS, they will be bigger and stronger. Next time you lift weights at the same level, you won't feel quite so sore. If you take a break from lifting, however, and then go back to it, you might feel those sore muscles after a heavy lifting session once again.
No. You should avoid lifting heavy weights or doing any high impact activities if you're sore. Pushing through the pain isn't a good idea and can lead to a longer recovery.How can I speed up Muscle soreness? ›
- Drink a lot of water. Hydrating after a workout is key to recovery. ...
- Get enough sleep. Getting proper rest is easily one of the most effective ways to recover from any form or degree of physical exertion. ...
- Eat nutritious food. ...
If you continue your usual exercise regimen even when you're sore, you're not giving your muscles enough time to heal. In fact, pushing yourself during a bout of soreness can eventually lead to an overuse injury. Overall, you're at risk of causing harm to your body by not resting.Why do I get extremely sore after working out? ›
Muscle soreness typically occurs if you do a new exercise to which you are not accustomed or if you do a familiar exercise too hard. This soreness typically begins within a few hours but peaks one to two days after exercise. This soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness and may represent actual muscle damage.Should I workout if I'm sore after 2 days? ›
"Working out when sore is okay as long as it isn't affecting your movement to the point where it's causing you to compensate and do something in a way that's unsafe," says Dr. Hedt. "Muscle soreness can be a deterrent to exercising, but it's temporary and the more you exercise, the less you should feel it.Does soreness mean muscle growth? ›
Muscle damage is vital to muscle growth. Muscle soreness is a reliable indicator of muscle damage. Hence, muscle soreness is associated with muscle growth.How do I reduce soreness immediately? ›
- Gentle stretching.
- Muscle massage.
- Ice to help reduce inflammation.
- Heat to help increase blood flow to your muscles. ...
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicine, such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen (brand name: Advil).
Drink at least 16 ounces of water or healthy drinks, such as coconut water, green or black tea, and chocolate milk. Or you can choose a low-sugar sports drink. These drinks contain electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium, that can prevent and relieve muscle cramping.How do you shorten soreness? ›
- During and After Your Workout: Hydrate.
- Immediately After Your Workout, Use a Foam Roller (Self-Myofascial Release) or Massage Gun.
- Eat Within a Half Hour After an Intense Workout.
- Later On: Sleep.
- The Day After a Tough Workout, Do Light Exercise.
"Typically, muscle soreness peaks around day three and starts diminishing afterwards. If your soreness persists beyond three days, it means you overdid it — you pushed your muscles a little too hard. But, prolonged muscle soreness can also be a sign of an injury," warns Murray.
Downtime between workouts (whether you're lifting, doing cardio or training for a sport) is when our bodies have a chance to actually build muscle. Strenuous workouts cause muscle breakdown, while rest allows our bodies to build it back up.Why do sore muscles feel good? ›
The acknowledgement that we've performed our best, linked with achievement, accomplishment, satisfaction and improvement to physical and mental health makes those aching thighs and tight biceps a pleasant pain. Some pain, however, isn't bearable.What should I eat for sore muscles? ›
- Tart cherry juice. Drinking tart cherry juice may benefit both trained athletes and novice gym-goers alike. ...
- Watermelon and watermelon juice. Watermelon is sweet, hydrating, and loaded with nutrients. ...
- Fatty fish. ...
- Pomegranate juice. ...
- Beet juice. ...
- Whey protein shakes. ...
- Eggs. ...
- Hydrate consistently. In order to build the proteins that make up muscle tissue, your body needs plenty of water. ...
- Eat the right kinds of food. ...
- Listen to your body. ...
- Try active recovery exercises. ...
- Massage sore muscles with foam rollers. ...
- Get enough sleep.
As regards the subject of lactic buildup in muscles, magnesium helps to dissipate the acid, thus quickening recovery. Thankfully, the list of magnesium-rich foods is unending. It includes nuts and seeds, legumes, leafy greens, salmon, mackerel – practically any seafood!
You'll be more prone to injury, which can lead to months of inactivity and lost progress. It's recommended to rest for 72 hours before working out the same muscle group again. This gives your body the time it needs for muscle recovery and growth without risking injury from overtraining or under-recovery.Does stretching help sore muscles? ›
One large study showed that stretching before and after exercise reduced peak soreness over a one week period by, on average, four points on a 100-point scale (mean difference -3.80, 95% CI -5.17 to -2.43).How long does a workout sore last? ›
As your muscles heal, they'll get bigger and stronger, paving the way to the next level of fitness. The DOMS usually kicks in 12 to 24 hours after a tough workout and peaks between 24 to 72 hours. The soreness will go away in a few days.Do muscles get stronger after soreness? ›
Soreness doesn't make you stronger. It just makes you hurt! It's easy to develop soreness just by emphasizing eccentric exercise without adding any extra weight.Are Bodybuilders always sore? ›
A lot of very advanced athletes and bodybuilders are almost never sore from training. Their body is so used to handling training that they very rarely traumatize their muscles enough to cause the stress response that will lead to debilitating soreness.
- You're gaining weight. Tracking changes in your body weight is one of the easiest ways to tell if your hard work is paying off. ...
- Your clothes fit differently. ...
- Your building strength. ...
- You're muscles are looking “swole” ...
- Your body composition has changed.
- Raw onions. Although all vegetables are essential for health, onions are one of the most beneficial for reducing pain. ...
- CBD. CBD is a substance that has a very controversial history. ...
- Apple Cider Vinegar. ...
- Epsom Salt. ...
- Try Some Exercises. ...
- Olive Oil. ...
- Cherry Juice.
An excellent source of potassium, eating bananas also helps in easing muscle soreness post gymming.What should you eat immediately after a workout? ›
- Yogurt and fruit.
- Peanut butter sandwich.
- Low-fat chocolate milk and pretzels.
- Post-workout recovery smoothie.
- Turkey on whole-grain bread with vegetables.
Like most fruit, bananas are a great food to eat after a workout. Doing so can reduce inflammation and replenish muscle glycogen stores, ultimately promoting quicker recovery. In addition to helping with recovery, eating this fruit before or during a workout can be beneficial.What should I eat on rest days? ›
- Carbohydrates. Eat complex carbs to restore your glycogen levels. ...
- Water. It's essential to drink enough water, even when you're not working out. ...
- Fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies offer healthy carbs and nutrients that support recovery.
Your rest day nutrition should include plenty of protein from a variety of sources, complex carbohydrates to fuel recovery, and healthy fats to help bring down inflammation created by training. Aim for 20-30g protein every 2-4 hours throughout the day.How long will it take to see muscle growth? ›
Most beginners will see noticeable muscle growth within eight weeks, while more experienced lifters will see changes in three to four weeks. Most individuals gain one to two pounds of lean muscle per month with the right strength training and nutrition plan.Why do muscles hurt more 2 days later? ›
Delayed-onset muscle soreness is caused by microscopic muscle damage. It's perfectly normal—and most common after taking time off or trying something new.Do sore muscles burn energy? ›
The verdict: Not true. During exercise, your body needs energy, and it breaks down molecules to get that. As a result of this metabolic process, your cells naturally become more acidic, which makes your muscles feel like they're burning.
It helps your muscles recover. According to the American Physiological Society, post-workout caffeine can aid in muscle recovery if consumed with carbs. That's because it helps bring glucose from your blood and into your muscles, therefore replenishing your stores, in as little as four hours.Does eating salt help sore muscles? ›
“Salt plays a vital role in our body. It can help regulate muscle contraction, nerve function and blood volume. It also regulates fluid levels in your body. “Low sodium levels can cause dehydration, muscles cramps or even organ failure.What is the best vitamin for muscles? ›
Niacin or vitamin B3 is another B vitamin with muscle-boosting powers. This vitamin is popular among bodybuilders for increasing muscle vascularity and testosterone production. B3 does not only help with muscle growth but with muscle repair, recovery, and improved metabolism.Which muscles recover the fastest? ›
With that being said, different muscle groups tend to have different rates of recovery, with smaller muscles—biceps, triceps, calves—being able to recover more quickly than larger muscles—lats, quads, hamstrings, etc.Does milk help muscle recovery? ›
Milk augments post-exercise muscle protein synthesis and rehydration, can contribute to post-exercise glycogen resynthesis, and attenuates post-exercise muscle soreness/function losses.How do you flush out lactic acid? ›
When you drink water, it helps to dilute the lactic acid and flush it out of the body. Water supplies the much-needed oxygen and hydrogen ions to the blood. Hydration is key to lowering lactic acid levels because water is supplying what the muscle cell crave, Oxygen and Hydrogen ions.How do you flush lactic acid from muscles? ›
- Decreased exercise intensity.
- Taking deep breaths during exercise.
- Active recovery or low-intensity movements, such as yoga, walking, biking, or foam rolling.
Muscle ache, burning, rapid breathing, nausea, stomach pain: If you've experienced the unpleasant feeling of lactic acidosis, you likely remember it. Lactic acidosis caused by intense exercise is usually temporary. It happens when too much acid builds up in your bloodstream.Is it normal for DOMS to last 4 days? ›
Doms can last up to five days, with the effects usually worst on day two or three, then gradually improving without treatment. It is a normal part of building muscle strength and stamina, but coach Nick Anderson warns that it could be telling you it's time to review your workout.Is it normal for muscle soreness to last a week? ›
Most people notice reduced pain within 5–7 days, but see your medical provider if the pain lasts longer than a week or gets worse.
When to see a doctor. Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience muscle pain that doesn't go away. Nearly everyone experiences muscle pain from time to time. But if your muscle pain persists despite rest, massage and similar self-care measures, make an appointment with your doctor.When should I be concerned about muscle soreness? ›
Schedule an office visit if you have:
Signs of infection, such as redness and swelling, around a sore muscle. Muscle pain after you start taking or increase the dosage of a medication — (particularly statins — medications used to control cholesterol. Muscle pain that doesn't improve with self-care.