As everybody who has ever hit the gym for the first time knows, muscle soreness is the real deal. After exercise, especially underweighted tension or if you’re performing a new movement to task muscles in a new way, your muscle fibres become fatigued. They break down and are knitted anew, which is how you build muscle.
Unfortunately, that same process is what causes muscle soreness. DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, arise as a result of micro-tears in the muscle. They are a necessary part of the process – but they must be respected.
So when you’re aching and sore and turn to Google to ask ‘Should I workout with sore muscles?’ The answer is really: it depends on what your plan looks like.
Routines to solve soreness
Micro-tearing and rebuilding is a critical part of the muscle growth process. However, you can train ‘around’ soreness by building a routine that targets different muscle groups on different days. If you train chest on a Monday, you can train legs on Wednesday to avoid overworking your sore chest muscles and give them time to recover.
DOMS tends to go away in 2-4 days, but you can train the same muscles sooner than that. As you workout, you’ll find the soreness begins to retreat due to your muscles warming up. As long as you’ve allowed the muscles time to replenish and begin reknitting, you can work out regardless of soreness.
As we discussed in our compounds article, sometimes you may not want a split routine and instead focus on compound lifts which stress more muscles at once. This makes working out when sore a little harder, as you can’t just swap between muscle groups. Instead, you’ll need to plan your workout around the main areas targeted by your compounds. This can be done by splitting days into a ‘push’ day (press-ups, bench press, shoulder press etc), ‘pull’ day (deadlifts, pull-ups, rows, shrugs etc) or ‘legs’ day (squats, front squats, jump squats etc).
If you’re simply too sore to tackle a workout, don’t force it. Getting back to the gym too quickly can cause more harm than good. Instead, you’ve got to think about recovery…
How to relieve sore muscles after a workout
So we’ve discussed the science of how muscle growth works and shown how soreness is typically the muscle fibre breaking down and reknitting. This same scientific process can help inform how we can relieve sore muscles after a workout – with the following top tips making up our favourite:
1. Eat a protein-rich snack after training
Protein helps aid your muscle’s repair process. Protein is used by the body to repair and build muscle tissue – and carbs are also needed to replenish your glycogen levels. Eating a protein-rich snack after training makes protein available to your muscles. Our Millionaire Crunch protein bars, which also contain carbohydrates, are ideal as post-workout snacks as they provide a quick serving of protein and slow-release carbs.
2. Try a foam roller
Once DOMS has set in, a foam roller can help alleviate muscle soreness. While some soreness is normal, a foam roller helps when you’re feeling really stiff and overworked. Foam rolling causes myofascial release and has been proven in studies to reduce the soreness associated with DOMS.
Make sure you watch a well-reviewed YouTube video around proper usage or you may cause yourself injuries.
3. Get a sports massage
The NHS suggests painkillers and ice packs for DOMS, but new insights into muscle recovery have raised questions about trying to reduce inflammation – arguing that the inflammation is a beneficial bodily function actually serves to help the body.
A sports massage is a way to help ease soreness without impacting inflammation. Massaging the key areas of inflammation can reduce the pain in the area and help increase blood flow to the area.
4. Magnesium salt baths
Getting into a warm bath containing Epsom/magnesium salt can help reduce muscle soreness. Magnesium helps to ease muscle aches by decreasing tension and can be applied topically – so you get to combine the heat and comfort of a bath with the benefits of DOMS-busting magnesium!
5. Recovery workouts
Recovery workouts are specifically designed to help ease aching muscles. They are generally workouts that are different and more gentle than your standard routine – for example, cycling on a static bike for 20 minutes when you have leg muscle soreness. Studies have shown that active recovery workouts helped ease soreness and improve recovery for canoeists and football athletes.