Muscle Soreness After Exercise

sore musclesIf your muscles are sore after you’ve gone to the gym, you are probably experiencing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).  Characterized by mild to moderate soreness in muscles peaking 2-3 days after exercise, DOMS can make you feel accomplished and remind you how hard you worked, but it can also prevent you from putting everything you have into your next workout. From novice to seasoned exercisers, everybody experiences DOMS at some point, and hopefully with some helpful tips you can reduce its impact on your next workout and your daily life.

DOMS is generally caused by the muscle increasing in length during eccentric contractions—i.e. when you are slowly letting down a weight like in down phase of a bicep curl.  It is also when most muscular injuries occur so it pays to be very careful when working with heavy weights.  When this happens multiple times with weight that is very challenging for your muscles to control, the muscular tissue develops microscopic tears which ultimately cause the soreness and discomfort.   This usually happens when you are trying a new exercise or coming back to exercise after a period of absence in the gym.  It helps to be consistent with your workouts if you are uncomfortable with experiencing DOMS.

Contrary to popular belief, this pain is not related to lactic acid build-up because it typically peaks 48-72 hours after working out–well after lactic acid has been flushed from the muscle tissue. This pain is often accompanied by slight inflammation and weakness and usually subsides within three to four days.

Currently there are multiple theories for treating and preventing DOMS. Of course the most effective treatment is to simply not let it happen in the first place but of course this is not always feasible if you are progressive in your exercise plan.  The most common prescription for DOMS is rest and some sort of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen. Consistent stretching and some therapies like massage or using a foam roller can also help with some of the minor aches and pains, and also helps properly realign the muscle fibers as they heal providing long-term benefits as well. As always, you should consult a medical professional before taking any sort of medication and ideally, you should allow at least 36 to 48 hours before training the same muscle group again at the same intensity.

Experiencing muscle soreness after exercising should not be a deterrent for you to lift weights or try new exercises!  You can still get results without having to experience muscle soreness, but you will need to work at a lower intensity (which means it may take you longer to get results) and visit the gym more consistently so that your muscles are used to working hard.  If you are training for a competitive event then it is more likely that you will experience DOMS more during your training period since you are progressing your exercise program regularly.

Thanks for reading!

Contributors: Kim Farmer and Terry Hackney of Mile High Fitness.  Mile High Fitness offers in-home personal training and corporate fitness solutions.  Visit or email

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