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Should You Exercise With DOMS?

April 06 2022 6 min read

You’ve pushed yourself to run an extra kilometre on the treadmill, upped your weights on your strength training and tried your hand at a new cardio workout. You’re full of pride and motivation and are ready to get up tomorrow and push yourself even harder. Until you wake up and realise that everything hurts.

Your arms are shakey and your legs are like jelly. Yesterday you were a beast in the gym and today you’re struggling to put your shoes on - sounds like you’ve got a serious case of DOMS.

What is DOMS?

Delayed Onset Muscle Stiffness, or DOMS, is the pain you feel after a tough workout. DOMS can range from that familiar satisfying ache in your muscles to a severe loss of strength and mobility.

How badly you’re affected by DOMS can vary based on how hard you’ve been exercising and your overall fitness levels. 

Why we get DOMS?

DOMS is a natural element of fitness that everyone experiences. Believe it or not, it’s actually a good thing - the soreness is a sign that your fitness is progressing.

You’ve probably heard the old adage ‘no pain, no gain’. This is because when you exercise, you’re causing micro muscle tears, which your body will repair to build and strengthen your muscles. So essentially, the harder you train, the more tears you’ll cause, leading to more aches and ultimately more development.

You may, however, find that sometimes you can workout without feeling sore and stiff. DOMS is more prevalent when you push yourself harder than you’re used to or when working your muscles in a different way than they’re used to - like a new workout. If you stick to what you’re used to, you won’t suffer from DOMS too much, however, you won’t see as much progression to your fitness as you would by mixing up your routine.  

How long does DOMS last?

After a big gym session, you’re likely to feel the effects of DOMS as soon as 8 hours after your workout. The soreness will be more noticeable after 24 hours and will really peak after 48 hours - we’ve all suffered from the infamous second-day muscle pain.

Feeling post-workout soreness immediately could be a sign of injury rather than DOMS. If you begin to feel pain right after exercise, it’s likely that you’re overtraining. Add more rest days to your week to give your muscles the chance to recover, or if the pain continues, see your doctor or a physiotherapist. 

The NHS suggests that DOMS will typically last between 3 and 5 days, yet you’re likely to feel your muscles loosen up after the first couple of days.

Should I workout with DOMS?

Although training with DOMS pain may feel like the last thing you want to do, it can actually be good for your recovery. Low-impact cardio like swimming is a fantastic way to gently ease your body back into exercise and means you don’t need to put a pause on your fitness.

Light stretches and yoga are another great way to ease your muscles back in without causing too much of a strain. If you’re desperate to hit the weights again, there’s nothing stopping you, just remember to focus on areas that aren’t suffering from DOMS - rushing back in is only going to make things worse.

If you’re thinking of getting back to the gym, it’s important to know whether you’re dealing with DOMS or injury. Training with sore muscles is fine as long as you’re careful with your workouts, however, you should avoid exercise if you’re dealing with something more serious like a tear or a sprain.

A good way to tell the difference is by the type of pain you’re feeling in your muscles. DOMS will cause your muscles to feel tight and achy, whereas an injury will feel like a sharp, stabbing pain.

How to beat DOMS

Just because DOMS is a natural part of exercising and progression, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to help ease the soreness. Here are some top tips to help get you through the pain:

1. Take it slow

Rushing your recovery will get you nowhere. There’s a difference between pushing through the pain and actually causing harm, so make sure you listen to your body. There’s no problem with getting back on the horse (no one wants to pause their fitness every time they get sore), as long as you ease your way back into it.

2. Warm-up and cool-down

If you are going to exercise, make sure you properly warm-up and cool-down with every workout. Although it won’t get rid of your DOMS, stretching will relieve some of the aches in your muscles and light exercise will help to get your blood flowing to ease some of the pain.

3. Massage

Another good way to get the blood flowing is with a gentle massage of your sore muscles. Massage not only flushes out toxins but it will help to relieve the pain of DOMS. Just make sure you avoid deep tissue massage as this can irritate your muscles and cause more pain.

4. Compression clothing

Many athletes praise the value of compression clothing when dealing with DOMS. They are another great way of increasing blood flow and flushing out toxins. As well as wearing compression clothing during your workouts, wearing compression socks for up to 24 hours after a gym session can significantly reduce the pain of DOMS.

5. Ice packs

The NHS recommends using an ice pack to help treat DOMS pain. Ice helps to combat muscle inflammation and numbs your nerve endings to reduce pain. If you choose to use an ice pack to combat DOMS, you’ll find the best results within 48 hours, as it won’t have much of an effect on older aches.

6. Hot baths

Is there anything more relaxing than treating yourself to a nice hot bath? A good long soak in a hot bath is another great one for increasing blood flow to sore muscles, as well as generally being a good way to rest your body.

For more helpful tips on training, nutrition and recovery, head over to Inside Track for more information. We have articles for beginners starting the gym and advice on the best gym workouts for footballers.