DOMS: Should I Be Sore After Every Workout?

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If you have recently decided to live a healthier life and start exercising, you may be shocked the next day when your muscles feel sore to the point where you can hardly get out of bed. The stiffness in your muscles post-workout is called DOMS, and is perfectly normal, but should you be sore after every workout?

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, occurs 12–24 hours after a workout. DOMS can affect anyone, from beginners to pro athletes.

However, if you are experiencing DOMS that lasts longer than seven days, or you notice severe swelling and pain in your arms and legs, it is time to seek medical attention.

Some people live for the stiff muscles and pain the day after a workout, which signifies that they have worked hard. Others can’t stand the limited mobility and pain the next day and feel discouraged about continuing their exercise routine. No matter who you are, DOMS is a normal part of regular exercise. 

Sore After Every Workout: Should DOMS Hurt?

DOMS: Should I be sore after every workout?
DOMS: Should I be sore after every workout?

If you have recently started exercising, it will be normal to experience muscle stiffness after your workout. Although DOMS can feel quite uncomfortable, and you may even be tempted to skip your next workout, it is a normal part of exercising. 

High-intensity exercise can lead to microscopic tears within your muscle fibers, and while this sounds like a bad thing, it is suitable for those looking to build muscle. As these tiny tears heal, your muscles will grow stronger. Inflammation can occur in the muscles after a workout, leading to DOMS.

Feeling sore after a workout is typical, especially if you have recently started exercising, increased the intensity or reps, or are trying out a new exercise routine. Switching up your exercise regime is a great way to work out muscles that are otherwise being neglected, but it can lead to feeling stiff the next day. 

You may start to experience DOMS symptoms 12-24 hours post-workout, and the muscle stiffness can stay for around two to three days. DOMS usually occurs after eccentric exercise, when you tense a muscle while lengthening it during a workout. Examples of eccentric exercises are bicep curls or running downhill, which tenses the quad muscles. 

While beginners may experience DOMS after every workout, it is not required for average muscle growth.

Unless you actively push your limit and your goal is to feel stiff after your exercise routine, you do not need to be in pain after every workout. Some people may experience DOMS more frequently and intensely than others due to genetic predispositions.

Does DOMS Indicate That You’ve Had A Good Workout?

While psychologically, DOMS can give us a sense of accomplishment, as feeling sore the next day gives us a physical indication of the work we put in, it is not a good indication of a great workout. 

After a while, your body adapts to specific exercises, which may eliminate DOMS completely. Just because you aren’t in pain the next day doesn’t mean you did not work hard, burn calories, and reap the health benefits of an elevated heart rate and moving your body.

DOMS usually occurs after starting a new exercise routine or pushing your body far beyond its limits. Once you’ve got a great routine and your muscles get used to exercising regularly, you may not feel as sore as when you started exercising. 

If you are experiencing muscle soreness after every workout, you are probably pushing your body too hard, and you may need to ease up on your training routine.

DOMS: How Much Pain Is Too Much Pain?

While it may be normal to feel extremely sore the day after a workout, especially if you are a beginner or decided to up the intensity of your exercise routine, there are some cases where pain levels are not considered normal. You may need to contact a medical professional. 

If your pain or level of stiffness does not decrease after three days, and you are nearly the 96-hour mark, it may not be DOMS that you are experiencing. If you feel you cannot carry out everyday activities because the pain is too great, your urine becomes darker, and you are experiencing significant swelling in your limbs, you should seek medical attention immediately.

If you have seriously injured yourself, it is likely that the pain was present immediately after the workout instead of appearing gradually the next day. An injury will also hinder your range of motion and last longer than three days. 

DOMS is a way of telling your body to slow down so it can recover. If you are experiencing DOMS after every workout and have been exercising for a while, it may be your body’s way of signaling that it needs a rest day or a decrease in the intensity of your workout. 

While many people use DOMS to gauge whether they have had a great workout, you should not aim for intense soreness every day. Your endurance, strength, and muscle will build faster if you allow your body to heal in-between workouts. 

Can You Exercise With DOMS?

Although the thought of exercising through sore muscles doesn’t sound like everyone’s idea of a great time, light exercises such as swimming, walking, cycling, and yoga can help your body to recover, and you don’t have to stop exercising while you wait for the pain to subside. 

If you’re aching to get back in the gym and continue your training routine, it would be best if you avoided training the muscles that are currently stiff. Overtraining muscles that are already sore from DOMS will not help with recovery and could make the pain last longer. 

While you can still exercise with DOMS, taking things slow is best, so your body can recover and heal properly. You should never try and train through an injury such as a sprain or tear. You can certainly tell the difference between DOMS and a severe injury, as DOMS will feel like a dull, tight ache in your muscles, whereas an injury will feel like a stabbing, sharp pain.

How To Relieve Muscle Soreness From DOMS

DOMS sore muscle massage

While there is no instant fix when it comes to DOMS, there are some things you can try that might help ease the muscle pain and give you some relief while you wait for your body to heal and recover naturally. 

Drink Enough Water And Stay Hydrated 

Research suggests that DOMS is less severe in people who drink more water and stay hydrated throughout the day and during their workouts. Dehydration can increase muscle pain and stiffness after a workout. 

The theory is that drinking more water can help flush out waste products in the body, which are released as the muscles break down, leading to increased pain while experiencing DOMS. Drinking water may help with your level of soreness post-workout.

Don’t Be A Couch Potato 

While it is easy to say, “It hurts to move, I’m just going to skip the gym today,” this is the worst thing you can do with DOMS. Some light activity can help to increase your circulation and improve the blood flowing through your body.

Swimming, cycling, walking, stretching, and yoga can help to reduce the pain and soreness in your muscles and help your body recover faster. If you are going to be weight training, it is best to stick to weights 25-50% lighter than what you would typically use. 

Stretching and yoga can help to increase your range of motion and release the tightness that your muscles are experiencing with DOMS. However, if you are too sore to even think about using the muscles, it is acceptable to skip the stretches.

Add Protein To Your Diet

If you aim to build and maintain muscle, you cannot do that without the essential nutrient of protein, which also helps your body and muscles to recover from an intense exercise session. While protein is critical before and after a workout, it can also be beneficial in the days following an intense session.

It would be best if you aim to add 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So, if you presently weigh 150 pounds, you will need around 95 to 136 grams of protein per day.

Use Ice Or Heat To Minimize The Pain From DOMS

The effects of using ice or heat to relieve pain from DOMS are temporary, so you can choose whichever option sounds more appealing. Using ice can help to reduce any swelling that comes from muscle soreness after an intense workout. Elevating your limbs can also help ease any pain you are experiencing.

On the other hand, heat can also reduce muscle pain and tension. Taking a nice, long, hot bath can help your body feel much more relaxed and may relieve some of the discomforts you are experiencing from DOMS. The heat can also help to improve your circulation.  

Another good option for heat relief is a trip to a sauna.

Bottom Line on Dealing with DOMS

DOMS typically occurs 12-24 hours after exercising and can affect anyone from beginners to pro athletes. It is normal to feel sore after a workout if you have not exercised in a while or have increased the intensity of your training.  

However, if the pain is debilitating, and you experience severe swelling in your limbs and darker urine, you should seek medical attention immediately.

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Alex Randall

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Alex is the editor at Revel Sports. It was his idea to take our post-club-run chats and build a website out of them. He is responsible for dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s when any of us have something to post. (Basically: it’s all his fault). A ferocious 5K powerhouse on his day, Alex is known for not understanding the meaning of the term ‘negative split‘.
Alex Randall

Revel SPorts Contributor

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