So you worked hard at the gym yesterday, and you’re feeling it now. You’ve got a case of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and you just want it to stop. Here’s how to cope, and importantly, how not to.
First, these are the things that will actually help:
Wait it out
This is the best answer. Your body needs to rebuild and repair your muscles, and there just isn’t a good shortcut for that process. DOMS will get worse before it gets better, usually peaking on the second day after exercise.
If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll just prolong the agony. Make time to get some rest.
Exercise doesn’t cure the soreness, but you’ll tend to feel it most acutely when you’ve been sitting still for a while. If you’re up and walking, you’ll be less miserable than if you sit on the couch all day. This is a balancing act, of course: if you’re really sore, you might prefer to take your chances with the couch.
Do what feels good
Mention that you’re sore, within earshot of any human being who has ever worked out even once, and you’ll get tons of recommendations about what you must do to completely make soreness go away. There’s no research backing these up, and they don’t actually change anything about your muscles. They just—for some people—feel better in the moment. So no, you do not have to do these to feel better. But if you enjoy any of the following, feel free to do it to take your mind off the soreness:
- Foam rolling
- Stretching (gently, because extreme stretches can cause damage)
- Heat, for example hot showers
- Cold, for example ice baths
- Compression garments
What to avoid
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) is tempting, because enough of it can dull the pain. But it also interferes with healing, so it’s not worth it in the long run. Use it only as temporary relief, not as a go-to strategy for dealing with all soreness.
Workouts that stress your muscles a lot can lead to injury. This includes extreme stretching and any intense contraction of the sore muscle. If you listen to your body, you’ll be fine, but beware the bro-science of trying to lift the DOMS away. There’s no science behind that. Instead, do a light workout so you stay in the habit, but don’t push yourself so hard it hurts.