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Muscle Pain After a Workout How to Reduce Pain (4 Easy Strategies that Work)

We've probably all been there where we work out a little harder than we normally do just getting back into exercising, then you get really sore muscles. 

This is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness, or commonly referred to as DOMS. 

In this article, I’m going to explain these four techniques to help you recover from sore muscles, or what is commonly referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

  1. Active recovery

  2. Stretching

  3. Foam rolling

  4. Contrast Showers

Now I'm going to go through the specifics of each of these strategies to help recover sore muscles.

1. Active Recovery to Relieve Muscle Soreness

First, most people's inclination, when they have these sore muscles is to relax and to move as little as possible.

When you're getting up and you're moving around, you're probably feeling pain from your DOMS.  This isn’t a fun sensation, especially if you’re not used to exercising.

However, try to avoid being sedentary.  

Instead, use something called active recovery.

It may surprise you but actually doing more movement helps your body to recover faster. 

This can be incredibly simple.  Focus on performing movements that are easier in nature but using the muscles that are sore.

This can be something as simple as getting up and walking for 20-30 minutes.

You can perform other active movements as well depending on which muscles are sore.

For example, you can bodyweight squats if your thighs are sore, or an easier version of push-ups if you have sore arms.

Keep it very simple, focus on using the muscles that are sore in a gentle repetitive motion without causing much fatigue in the actual muscles.

This is something that I was built into the programs of athletes I used to work with. 

It’s a great way to get more physical activity while still helping your body recover from the more intense workouts.

2. Foam Rolling for DOMS Recovery

Foam rolling is an effective way to recover from DOMS.

Get a foam roller or a massage ball and roll through the sore muscle. 

When you're doing this, you don't have to punish yourself with pain. 

If you use a 0-10 pain scale, zero being no pain and ten being high levels of pain you don’t need to be over a 3 or 4 out of 10.

Spend anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds on the different muscles that are sore.

If you’re really sore you may want to do this a couple of times throughout the day.

Here’s a video where I walk you through different foam roller exercises.

3. Stretching to Help Sore Muscles Recover

Stretching can help to relieve sore muscles.  This is best done after the foam rolling exercise outlined above.

Although any type of stretching can help I have found a specific type of active stretching to be the most effective way to instantly decrease how sore your muscles are.

I walk you through this process in the video below.

The third strategy for muscle soreness recovery is movement. Just go out and move and use those muscles. Don't make it a really high intensity workout. For example, if the front of your thighs are sore, go for a 30 minute walk and this is going to help out.

4. Contrast Showers for Muscle Recovery

Finally, the last strategy I’ll share is probably the is the most effective way I’ve learned over the years to help sore muscles recover quicker.

Contrast showers is something I started using this with athletes I trained years ago, but it can be just as effective for us regular people who are sore from our exercise routines.

Contrast showers are an effective way to increase blood flow to the muscles. This increase in blood flow brings more of the chemicals that help your body recover to the sore muscles speeding up recovery.

This increased blood flow actually helps to give instant relief by helping to relax the tense muscles that are sore from your previous workout.

How to Perform Contrast Showers for Muscle Recovery

Hop into your shower and put the water as hot as you can comfortably tolerate. 

Don't get silly and start burning yourself or causing pain.  The water needs to be hot but doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.

Have the hot water on your sore muscles for about two minutes.

Then put the water as cold as you can comfortably tolerate on your sore muscles for about 1 minute.  This can be quick the shock to the system when you turn it to the cold portion of the shower.

Contrast showers to help sore muscles recover

Then you repeat this cycle 2-4 times alternating between 2 minutes of hot water and 1 minute of cold water.

This is the most effective way I’ve found to decrease muscle soreness after a workout or help cure DOMS. 

There you have four different strategies for muscle soreness. Pick and choose whichever what will help you recover from muscle soreness. 

However, if you use all four of them in combination with each other, that's the most effective way to recover from sore muscles.

Next, I’m going to share with you why you get sore muscles after you’ve exercised or what causes DOMS.

“Are Sore Muscles a Good Sign?”

First, I want to make something clear. When it comes to muscle soreness, it does not automatically mean you had a good workout. 

This goes back to the old 1980s no pain, no gain mentality. 

I’ve found a lot of people are under the misunderstanding that you need to have sore muscle for it to have been a good workout.

You can have a great workout and be sore.

You can have a great workout and not have sore muscles the next day.

You could have a poor workout and be very sore the next day. 

I really want to clarify that so that you stop using muscle soreness as a measuring stick in terms of if you had a good workout or not. 

What Causes DOMS?

If you're doing any type of new activity or you're increasing how long or how hard your workout is you're creating more stress on your body.

This increased stress on the body can cause damage to your muscles. 

Oftentimes, people refer to this as micro-tears but all you really need to know from a practical standpoint is you've done some damage to the muscles.

Also, this isn’t a bad thing.

Muscle Soreness After a Workout Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Thing

This damage that occurs to the muscle from the stress of exercising is actually how you get your body stronger and into better shape. 

You put your body under stress, then you give it time to recover from the damage created by the workout.

What Causes Sore Muscles After a Workout?

When you create this damage through exercise your muscles can become sore from inflammation that occurs trying to heel this damage.

It’s not necessarily a real problem if you are sore after working out, but you probably don't enjoy that feeling especially if you're new to working out or you're just trying to get back into it. 

Usually, your muscle soreness or DOMS will hit its peak at around 24 to 48 hours after you've exercised. 

The delay in muscle soreness after a workout is due to how the inflammatory process works. 

There's something called an inflammatory cascade. 

First, your body increases blood flow to the area that has been damaged.

The blood is carrying the different chemicals that your body uses to start the healing process.

Some people are affected by muscle soreness more than others.

Also, you’re more likely to get muscle soreness if you are new to exercising or returning to working out after a period of being more sedentary.

As you consistently exercise, you'll be far more likely to have muscle soreness after a workout.

Or at least you're going to start to become more accustomed to the sensation and it's not as bad as when you first start exercising. 

One of the significant factors that can relate to this is hydration, so make sure you are drinking enough water.