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Post-Exercise Muscle Soreness FAQ

We’ve all been there—you make it through a killer circuit or cycling class feeling great, only to be slammed with major muscle soreness the next day (and the next…) We round up the most common questions related to DOMS—Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness—that pain and stiffness that’s caused by small tears in your muscle fibers that can last up to 72 hours after a workout. It may sound like something to avoid, but that micro-damage, along with proper nutrition and good rest, is actually how you rebuild muscle and get stronger! Read on to get tips from Honest trainers Paisley and Coach Em about how to tell “good” soreness from injury, how to prevent soreness, and what to do when it hits hard. 

If I’m not sore after I workout, does it mean I didn’t get a good workout? 

“False! First of all, any workout is a good workout. Second of all, we need to define what kind of “sore” we’re talking about. If every workout you do leaves you crying when you try to wash your hair, or wishing for your grandma’s double-decker toilet seat, you’re doing it wrong. However, if you wake up in the morning with an awareness of the muscles you used in yesterday’s workout, this is okay, that’s actually what we are looking for.”—Emily Celichowski, “Coach Em”

“Absolutely NOT! I love doing workouts that don’t make me sore! These can be great active recovery workouts, too.”—Paisley Meekin

How do I know the difference between an injury and “good” muscle soreness?

“Injury will often feel way worse and you will get sharp pain versus an ache (which can be a sign of a good workout). If you have inflammation that is making joints stiff and painful, that is really injury.”—Paisley

“It’s tough to know the difference sometimes (especially if you are just starting to work out… again…) but a good general rule of thumb is that if you are sore on both sides of your body in the same area, it’s less likely to be an injury as they are more likely isolated to one region. The more time you spend working out the more information and feedback you will get from your body about how hard push yourself and when to rein it in.”—Coach Em

Is there anything I can do to prevent soreness after I workout?

“You can prevent soreness after a workout by doing a thoughtful warm up and cool down. This is just as important as the more intense part of the workout. Try warming up for 15-20 minutes before getting after it with some dynamic movements, foam rolling, and core and glute activation to help get the blood flowing, and to start firing the muscles that will support the movements of your workout. Cool down slowly. Also, take care of yourself! The more sleep you get, the more vegetables you eat, the less stress in your life, the quicker you will recover from your workouts.”—Coach Em

How about relieving it once it’s pretty bad?

“Repeat after me: Motion is lotion. One of the BEST ways to relieve soreness from working out is to MOVE! Long active recovery like walking, jogging, swimming, or yoga are great for helping the body remove all of the byproducts of your killer workout, and it’s all about getting that blood flowing! Bonus points if you repeat some of the movements that caused you pain (yes, I want you to squat after leg day). Also, drink a lot of water and consider soaking in an Epsom bath or increasing your magnesium and calcium consumption.”—Coach Em

“Keep moving! Light workouts—walking, swimming, yoga, etc—and great, as well as stretching. Also try epsom salt baths and hot/cold therapy (hot bath, followed by cold shower, then repeat). Drink lots of water! All of these are great for prevention or once you’re there already.”—Paisley

How sore should you be after a workout?

“Light or moderate sore, not REALLY sore. Of course, “really sore” will happen if you switch stuff up or change the type of workout—so every once in a while it’s okay to get really sore. Enjoy it.”—Paisley

“This is so dependent! There are so many variables that could produce soreness. The biggest one that I see all of the time is when people come in after having taken some time (2 weeks to 2+ years) off and then get after their workout like they never skipped a beat! Just because your body can, doesn’t necessarily mean than it should. Especially when just beginning an workout routine, consistency is key! Commit to more days of less intense workouts when you get started to set yourself up for success.”—Coach Em

How long should you give your muscles time to recover after a workout? 

“This depends on how fast you recover, and will change with every person and what they eat and drink, how much they sleep, hormonal cycles, and their conditioning. I like 1 to 2 days but it depends on so much stuff.”—Paisley

“Your muscles are torn in the gym, fed in the kitchen, and built in bed! So recovery, my friends, does not mean skip the gym. It means move mindful of the soreness you are experiencing, go slower, ease into your range of motion. Eat well. Whole foods contain lots of vitamins and minerals to help support the body as we push it in the gym and life. Sleep well. Prioritize your sleep like you do your workouts, and you’ll have so much more energy to get it done!”—Coach Em

Owner of Honest Training
Certified Personal Training w/ a specialization in corrective exercise and small group personal training
Fitness Fanatic
Pit Bull Mom
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