5 Proven Methods to Reduce Post Workout Muscle Soreness
5 Proven Methods to Reduce Post Workout Muscle Soreness
I’m pretty sure everyone who’s ever worked out, or participated in any moderate physical activity, has experienced the phenomenon known as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). It’s the muscle soreness you feel usually 12-72hrs after a relatively vigorous workout. There are of course varying degrees of soreness. You might be a bit sore after taking a few sets of squats to failure in a full body workout. You’re more likely to be extremely sore after 4 sets of 8 Flat Dumbbell Bench Press followed by 2 drop sets during an Upper Body Workout. You’re also likely to be sore if you’re a beginner or if you're doing a bodybuilding program with tons of volume. The biggest culprit of muscle soreness is eccentric focused tempo and exercises. The eccentric part of a lift is the lowering of the weight and the concentric is the contraction to move the weight back up. High Intensity Eccentric exercise produces the most DOMS compared to concentric focus. Think of running a 5k mostly downhill, or lowering a heavy squat with a slow tempo.
All My Muscles are Sore... Success
Many people gauge their workout effectiveness based off how sore they are. To be honest, I love that satisfying feeling of post workout soreness too. You know you’ve worked hard, and damaged your muscles enough to trigger protein synthesis (muscle building) and/or a big metabolic reaction for fat loss. However, although research shows that muscle soreness can be an indicator of a “solid workout” and contribute to increases in muscle mass, you can still grow your muscles or produce a major fat burning metabolic cost without producing as much muscle damage or soreness. On the other hand, too much muscle damage can negatively effect your gains. DOMS has been associated with decreased force production and higher CK levels (metabolic waste) which decreases short term performance until the area has recovered. It may take much longer for that area to recover, and may even go as far as to damage more than just muscle fibers, the micro-tears can be seen in other connective tissues. Don’t worry too much, most good programs won’t put you over the edge and as long as you prioritize proper recovery methods and select a program that fits your fitness level you’ll be just fine. An amazing paper by Brad Schoenfeld, one of the world’s leaders in hypertrophy (muscle building) research highlights these findings.
So what can you do to optimally recover and reduce muscle soreness?
I’ve got 5 very useful strategies for you. Here they are:
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) are specific amino acids that are broken down from protein sources and directly effect tissue recovery among many other things (they deserve an article on their own). BCAAs are also Essential Amino Acids, meaning that your body cannot produce these and you must consume them from an external source to reap the benefits. They’ve been proven to reduce muscle soreness and improve force production in subsequent workouts when taken just before, during, or right after a workout. They get the recovery process started quickly and some studies show major decreases in muscle damage and muscle soreness compared to placebo groups. One study specifically had subjects perform 12 sets at 120% 1RM of Eccentric Single Leg knee extensions and subjects who ingested BCAAs had less muscle soreness and less of a loss in strength.
This is a really interesting approach and its proven to work well. Cardio Acceleration is simply performing an aerobic cardio exercises during your rest period (30-60sec) in between sets of a strength exercise. The theory being that more blood flow can enter the muscle to promote recovery and reduce eccentric exercises damage. Another beautiful thing about this is that it increases total energy expenditure so it’s a great fat loss tool as well. It may not work well if your goal is strength because you’ll need more rest time in between sets and you want the whole rest time to bring your muscle fibers contraction ability back to optimal levels.
Get Your Antioxidant Fix
Antioxidants are proven to reduce bad/excessive inflammation. DOMS has a lot to do with the inflammation of a muscle in order to promote recovery. Antioxidants remove crappy waste products called “free radicals” from the body to speed recovery and ensure a healthy healing environment. There are some specific antioxidants that have proven to be effective for reducing muscle soreness such as resveratrol which is found in many berries, grapes and wine. Other antioxidant rich foods that may help reduce DOMS include green tea, olive oil, and dark green veggies.
Massage / Self Myofascial Release
That’s right, a nice relaxing massage post workout has proven to reduce DOMS. There is some conflicting research but part of the theory is that it increases blood flow to the damaged muscles and pushes out some of the metabolic waste. Other studies show that it only reduces pain but doesn’t exactly increase recovery.
Self myofascial release strategies like foam rolling, or trigger point pressure is pretty much the same thing but you’re massaging yourself actively. This strategy works really well especially if you foam roll the worked area directly after a workout. Try rolling for 20-30sec each side for 1-2 sets/muscle group. Not only do studies support this but many of my clients (and myself) have reported reduced DOMS when foam rolling after a session compared to sessions without foam rolling.
Active recovery follows the common theme of recovery options. It increases blood flow to the worked muscle group. There are many different documented types of Active Recovery. In my own anecdotal evidence, lightly working the same muscle group that is sore, a day after exercise can significantly reduce DOMS. However, there are some parameters to go by:
Achieve “the pump” by selecting lighter weights (30-50% 1RM, or bodyweight) and higher reps (15-30)
Ingest Carbs, Protein or both during the Active Recovery Session
Ensure you’re specifically working the muscle(s) that is affected by DOMS
That wraps up 5 of the best methods to reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Give them a try and kiss the soreness goodbye!
(for a brief review of a different recovery method check out my post Here on Cryotherapy for reducing DOMS)
Jackman, S. R., Witard, O. C., Jeukendrup, A. E., & Tipton, K. D. (2010). Branched-chain amino acid ingestion can ameliorate soreness from eccentric exercise. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 42(5), 962-970.
Shimomura, Yoshiharu, et al. "Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness." International journal of sport nutrition 20.3 (2010): 236.
Shimomura, Yoshiharu, et al. "Exercise promotes BCAA catabolism: effects of BCAA supplementation on skeletal muscle during exercise." The Journal of nutrition 134.6 (2004): 1583S-1587S.
Davis, W. Jackson, et al. "Elimination of delayed-onset muscle soreness by pre-resistance cardioacceleration before each set." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 22.1 (2008): 212-225.
McLeay, Yanita, et al. "Effect of New Zealand blueberry consumption on recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage." J Int Soc Sports Nutr 9.1 (2012): 19.
Dekkers, J. Caroline, Lorenz JP van Doornen, and Han CG Kemper. "The role of antioxidant vitamins and enzymes in the prevention of exercise-induced muscle damage." Sports Medicine 21.3 (1996): 213-238.
Smith, Lucille L., et al. "The effects of athletic massage on delayed onset muscle soreness, creatine kinase, and neutrophil count: a preliminary report." Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 19.2 (1994): 93-99.
MacDonald, Graham Z., et al. "Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity." Med Sci Sports Exerc 46.1 (2014): 131-142.
Pearcey, Gregory EP, et al. "Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures." Journal of athletic training 50.1 (2015): 5-13.