man suffering from doms while working out at the gym

Muscle Soreness After Workout: All About DOMS

Blog written by Vybe.

Most fitness buffs and athletes would agree that muscle pain and stiffness are the signs of a good workout, but what many people don't know is how to facilitate that muscle recovery after a strenuous day in the gym.

To really understand what sort of a post-workout recovery routine you need, it's critical that you understand why your body is reacting  the way it does. This knowledge will really help you make the best decisions for painful after effects like DOMS.

There is an entire vocabulary built around fitness and conditioning. There's BMI (Body Mass Index), Burpee (hop and jump), HIT (High Interval Training), Plank (interminable  stop-motion pushup), DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), and more. All this specific language indicates how far the fitness industry has come in terms of not only the actual physical exercise, but the research into understanding why and how the human body responds the way it does.

What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

For many athletes, the whole point of their sport or their workout is mastery over their bodies. So the concept of no pain, no gain is fine—part of the process. Sure, you're a little sore during the game or while you're on the machines—that's acute muscle soreness, the burning sensation you feel when you're really pushing it. But what happens when you feel super during and after a hard workout, but the next morning you're so stiff and sore you can't get out of bed?

Lactic Acid Buildup Causes Immediate Workout Pain

That particular burn is caused by lactic acid. When you have a strenuous workout, your muscles can't get all the oxygen they need to break down glucose quickly enough to meet your immediate need for energy. Lactic acid builds up in your muscles and leaches into your bloodstream, which causes the tingling and burning. When lactic acid is the culprit, muscle recovery after your workout is swift and complete.

Other Reasons for Muscle Pain

Your muscles are at additional risk for burning and pain after a tough workout. Chronic exertional compartment syndrome is an exercise-induced condition that's identified by pain, swelling, cramping, and aching, typically in the lower leg. If swelling gets too excessive, the fluid has nowhere to go, creating tremendous pressure on the affected limb. Severe cases can lead to kidney failure.

Extreme workouts also put you at risk for soft-tissue injury—sprains, bruises, and muscle strain. 

If you have symptoms similar to either of these, stop your workout and see your doctor.

Exercise scientists used to think there was a correlation between lactic acid buildup and DOMS, but that theory has been disproved since DOMS is not an immediate event. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is exactly that—a delayed response to exercise. That said, the longer you hold the burn during exercise, the more muscle damage you incur, so it's possible that excessive stress on your muscles can cause DOMS.

What causes DOMS?

DOMS happens when you put yourself through a tough workout; the increased stress on the muscle fibers causes microscopic tears. DOMS is common at the beginning of training season for athletes, when they're getting back into a stepped-up workout routine, and when you start a new workout regimen. New movements and repetition patterns can cause DOMS in even the most fit athletes.

If you look at muscle tissue under a microscope, you'll see a definite structure to undamaged tissue. When you have DOMS, you'll see tears and breaks in the structural patterns of the muscle. These tiny tears will heal themselves in a few days. True muscle injury, like a tear in your hamstring or Achilles, is a much larger injury that takes weeks or months to heal. Even casual athletes can diagnose a mild case of DOMS.

Symptoms of DOMs Include the Following:

  • Muscles are tender to the touch

  • Pain and stiffness that cause a reduced range of motion

  • Muscles that feel tender to the touch

  • Muscle swelling

  • Muscle fatigue

  • Temporary muscle weakness

Pain from DOMS ranges from mild to debilitating, depending on the severity of the inflammation in your muscles. 

Eccentric Exercise is a Primary Trigger for DOMS

Any high intensity exercise can cause DOMS, but there's one particular type that appears to increase symptoms—eccentric activity.

In this scenario, an eccentric exercise is one where the muscles contract as they lengthen. In simple terms, you tense a muscle at the same time you're extending it. Examples of eccentric movement are as basic as running downhill or going down stairs. In the gym, lowering weights, deep squats, and lowering yourself for a plank or push-up are eccentric movements.

Speed Up Muscle Recovery After a Workout

The best way to ensure you don't have much down time after a tough workout is to prepare properly before you step on the elliptical. Stretching is key—it loosens and warms up your muscles so they're ready to work a little hard.

The second best way to avoid DOMS is to slowly increase your activity. A good rule of thumb is about 10% per week across the board—intensity, time, and distance. A slow and measured boost will actually help you reach your goals faster since you won't have as much down time from injury. 

Don't forget an intentional cooldown after you're finished with the hard core part of your workout. If you've ever done yoga, you're familiar with the savasana, those few minutes where you gently stretch and breathe. Even five or seven  minutes of walking on a treadmill will help your muscles slowly cool down, which may relieve lactic acid buildup and inflammation.

Should I Work Out With Sore Muscles?

Elite athletes don't really have a choice in continuing training with DOMS, they just have to figure out how to power through. They're actually on to something here—exercise is the best way to ease the pain of DOMS. That analgesic effect is only temporary, however, and if you go too hard during your workout, you'll just exacerbate the initial injury. The smartest approach is to lower the intensity of your routine, and focus on areas of your body that haven't been affected by DOMS.

What's the Best Treatment For Sore Muscles?

Professional athletes swear by an ice bath after a competition or hard workout. The cold helps overworked muscles cool down more quickly, thereby helping ease inflammation. You can combine ice therapy with over the counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen, that will also help combat inflammation and soreness.

Sports Massage as DOMS Therapy

Massage is gaining traction as a part of DOMS treatment for athletes. Targeted massage is a great way to flush out lactic acid and other residual toxins in the muscles, by increasing circulation and bringing newly oxygenated blood to sore muscles.

When DOMS is a part of your post-workout routine, those tiny muscle tears release cytokine into the body, and cause inflammation. Massage can slow the release of cytokine, which eases the pain and stiffness of DOMS.

There is also some evidence that massage can improve muscle fitness in the targeted areas. Here's a super quick and simple biochemistry lesson on why this is.

Mitochondria in cells help take in and use oxygen. According to Mark A. Tarnopolsky, MD, PhD, a professor of pediatrics and head of Neuromuscular and Neurometabolic Disease at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, the muscles' capability to extract oxygen is directly proportional to the mitochondria that are in the muscles. When you begin an intense workout program, the mitochondria in your muscles double after just a few months of training. Massage appears to enhance the boost in mitochondria, which in turn enhances performance.

How Percussion Massage Helps Muscles

A handheld percussion massage gun, such as the Vybe massager, let you loosen the muscle and the fascia surrounding it for improved flexibility, range of motion, and reduced soreness and stiffness.

Percussion massage therapy works by increasing the circulation of both blood and lymph in the body. The pressure of the massage gun stimulates nerve receptors, which in turn cause the blood vessels to dilate. This helps increase the rate of blood and lymph flow around the impacted areas.

  • These are some other benefits of percussion massage, not just limited to DOMS relief.
  • Reduced soreness and stiffness post-workout
  • Better mobility and range of motion
  • Possibility of improved overall circulation
  • Enhanced performance in future workouts, with reduced DOMS symptoms

Vybe makes it easy to massage sore muscles any time, especially when you're feeling the effects of DOMS long after you've left the gym.

Post-Workout Recovery Tips

There is more to a good post-workout routine than percussion massage. Here are some tips to keep you going.

Stretch

While you're cooling down after your workout, don't forget to stretch out your tired muscles. Just like stretching prior to exercise warms you up, a final stretch or two before you hit the showers eases the tension from your activities, keeps the blood and oxygen moving, and helps you stay flexible.

Hydrate

Make sure you continue to hydrate after you've finished your workout. Your body doesn't immediately go into a resting mode when you step off the machine or out of the pool, so you're still at risk for cramps and dizziness. Supplement your water with a sports drink if it's been an unusually hot or strenuous workout; this ensures your electrolytes stay balanced and helps get nutrients to your heart and brain as well as your muscles.

Have a Snack

A quick and healthy snack helps fuel your body after you've depleted so much of your nutritional stores. Bananas, Greek yogurt with berries, or a slice of whole grain peanut butter toast are all good options.

Hot Bath

A soak in the tub, with water temps around 95F, is another way to soothe aching muscles. The heat of the water dilates blood vessels, increasing circulation and blood flow to help relax tight sore spots.

Rest

After a hard workout, you've got to treat your body right. This means giving yourself a break—rest and take it easy. You can plan your nights on the town around your exercise or training schedule, so that your body can really recharge after a tough day at the gym. It's also important to get a good night's sleep as a shield against the worst of DOMS. This is especially true as you get older—and we all are—and your body doesn't bounce back like it did when you were in college.

Final Thoughts

Take care of your body and it will take care of you. Sure, it's an old wives' tale, but it's stood the test of time because it's absolutely true. Maintaining your health with exercise is a great way to feel good and combat aging. Adding a Vybe Percussion Massage gun to your after workout game plan will help cut down on your time away from the gym, but it will also help you ease away life's little tensions—you don't have to wait for a workout to massage your stress away.

 

Contributing Writer: Elizabeth Johnston