We’ve all experienced it: We went extra hard in our workout. We feel a little euphoria at the end. Proud for a job well done. But then the next morning it happens. A little sore from that killer workout. And then the next morning it happens again. Only this time worse. The soreness is so bad it hurts to roll over in bed, put on a t-shirt, and sit down.
What causes post-workout soreness?
This phenomenon is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). It’s usually worse at the 48-hour mark and tends to disappear after 72 hours. Scientist and fitness professionals have studied it, and the one conclusion they can all agree upon is that they have no idea why DOMS happens.
But there is one theory scientist think is most likely the cause. PhD assistant professor of exercise science at Western State Colorado University, Lance Dalleck, says, “the leading candidate is that excessive eccentric contraction causes muscle damage, inflammation, and stress that trigger the pain receptors.”
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it means you’re building strength and you’re most likely not going to get as sore when you do that same exercise again.
What are a couple of examples of eccentric exercises?
When you do a bicep curl, you are doing a concentric movement when you bend the elbow. Shortening the muscles. When you extend the elbow, that is the eccentric movement. You’re lengthening the muscles.
When you do a squat your quad muscles lengthen when you bend the knees and are in the downward phase of a squat. That is the eccentric movement.
Can I workout if I am sore?
Short answer, yes. But it all depends on how sore you are and what type of exercises you do after. Professionals recommend keeping your workouts lighter when you are experiencing DOMS. So less weight, more stretching, and less intensity. There are two reasons for this:
1. You are more likely to heal quicker.
2. Because your muscles are sore, your body is naturally fatigued and won’t be able to perform at its peak.
How will I know the difference between DOMS and a legitimate injury?
After 72 hours, DOMS usually starts to fade away if not go away completely. If the soreness is still intense after three-days and continues over a week, you may want to visit your doctor. Another sign of injury is if you are experiencing localized pain on one side of you body. For example, if you did rows on both sides and only your right shoulder is still in pain, you may have an injury.
But when in doubt, it's always best to speak with a professional.
How can I help alleviate the pain?
The most obvious answer is take a break. Don’t workout and stick to light stretching until the soreness subsides. Foam rolling and massage can also help reduce your pain.
Dalleck recommends upping your dosage of antioxidants or caffeine to help speed up recovery. There still isn’t exact numbers on how much you should increase your portions, but there are connections in drinking coffee before or after a workout and consuming more antioxidant fruits like pomegranates, blueberries, and cherries to help reduce inflammation and recovery time.
Of course, there’s always Ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is designed to reduce inflammation and is also a pain reliever. Just don’t overdo the dosage.