Try as I might, I can't avoid it.
Every Friday morning I head out to the gym for my workout. Squats, lunges, leg press, you know... #LegDay.
But then every Saturday I wake to find myself ridiculously sore. We're talking quads-on-fire, sore-to-the-touch, fear-my-children-jumping-on-me soreness.
Whether you're lifting weights, training for a 10K, or whatever (cough - getting old - cough), soreness just seems to be part and parcel of fitness. If you've done any research on it, you've probably found the culprit's name - DOMS. Or "delayed onset muscle soreness."
Let's get into how you can minimize it!
- What Is DOMS?
- The Standard Post Workout Avoidance Methods
- Furniture Changes You Can Make to Lessen DOMS
- Additional Tips to Avoid Muscle Soreness
What Is DOMS?
Before we get too deep, let's clarify what we're talking about. Augmenting the definition in Wikipedia, I would define DOMS like this:
DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. Typically, the pain begins 6-12 hours after exercise, with the most acute soreness felt 24 to 48 hours post workout.
If you're like me, you fall victim to DOMS due to the "strenuous" part of that definition instead of the "unaccustomed." Let's just say my Friday leg workouts are sorta the same and I am VERY accustomed to them!
Regardless, the basic idea is that you exercise, and then you start to feel sore later, with "peak soreness" a day or two later. Like I said, I squat Friday morning and Saturday can be BRUTAL!
There's some bro-science out there that I used to fall prey to, so let's knock out the standard questions:
Is it possible to avoid soreness completely?
Yes, but only if you're not training. While the medical causes of muscle soreness aren't completely understood, it's believed that small scale tears (microtrauma) are a primary driver leading to DOMS. Most strenuous exercise is going to result muscle soreness.
Are sore muscles a good sign?
Not necessarily! It's a common misperception that soreness is a sign of a good workout. "No pain, no gain," and all that. In fact, according to the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, "DOMS is a poor reflector of eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation."
In other words, how sore you feel is unrelated to strength or performance improvements.
How long does muscle soreness last?
Typically, DOMS lasts up to 72 hours post workout. You're likely to feel most uncomfortable 1-2 days after your workout, particularly in larger muscle groups like your back and legs. If you're sore for more than 5 days, you almost certainly pushed it too hard!
The Standard Post Workout Avoidance Methods for DOMS
I've been dealing with this for years now, and I'll touch on some additional preventative ideas below to "close the loop" a bit. But for the sake of this article, let's just assume DOMS is part of your life too, and you'd like it to play less of a factor!
Personally, I'm a big fan of Mike Matthews and his article on Legion covers the scientifically agreed upon basics of dealing with soreness post workout. There's no magic bullet to avoiding soreness completely, but here are the basics!
Of course, there's massage. Honestly, I'm too cheap to pony up for a massage every week - which is how often my legs are sore. It seems like a luxury purchase, and I'm just not doing it. However, it is something that's proven effective, at least for some duration afterwards.
Ugh, Foam Rolling
Yeah... there's foam rolling. I've read a decent amount about foam rolling, and the science still seems pretty mixed (according to my very biased opinion). If you've ever tried foam rolling when you're already sore, you know this suggestion had to come from a avowed sadist. That said, foam rolling immediately after a workout sounds like a reasonable idea if you're into that.
Here's a guide on torturing yourself foam rolling correctly.
Yoga is another agreed up on method that seems to reduce soreness, and is probably just good for you anyway. Here's a good guide to get you started!
According to Preston Moore, "Active recovery is a way to exercise the affected muscle(s) at a very low intensity. The goal of active recovery is to increase the blood flow to the affected region. By increasing the local blood flow, you can help your body to deliver more nutrients to the damaged tissues to assist in the repair process."
You can also read the abstract here, but the basic idea is to use your sore muscles. In the referenced study, the participants used bungies and higher rep ranges.
With that knowledge we can answer the age old question, "Should you workout when you're sore?" You can, but your workout should be focused on light weights and higher rep ranges. Working out while you're sore is unlikely to yield strength or performance improvements. However, it can reduce soreness.
Along those lines, you could also take the dog for an extra walk, or use the stairs instead of elevator.
Unfortunately, the last thing I want to do after squats is, uh, more squats. Or really anything. I'm sort of lazy after a workout! Which finally brings me to a few changes I've made in my day-to-day that actually seemed to help with DOMS without requiring a change to my actual routine (or more time in the gym).
Furniture Changes That Helped Me with DOMS
If you noticed above, all of the ideas about reducing soreness could be thrown into a bucket labelled "just keep swimming." Massage and foam rolling directly target the muscle fibers. Yoga and active recovery are more general, but keep you moving around and not sitting stagnant.
And that's where I was going wrong. My daily routine looked something like this: Work out, eat, shower, work (i.e.: sit at a desk all day), be sore. That might look a lot like your current routine too.
Before I go any further, I should mention that all of the solutions we're getting into are geared towards your main muscle groups. Specifically, there's changes that will help you dodge some soreness in the quads, hamstrings, lower back muscles, and abdominals.
My problem is legs... Two changes have made a noticeable impact. These are specific adjustments I've made, but you should consider them examples and imagine similar modifications you could make to your routine.
Swap to an Adjustable Height Desk for Leg Soreness
To be honest, I think the hubbub over adjustable height or "sit/stand" desks is completely overblown. In fact, I've made that point elsewhere on our site. However, on Fridays I set a 30 minute timer on my iPhone and swap between sitting and standing throughout the day. I rarely stand the whole 30 minute block, but it helps!
Just a few months ago, I'd get up from my desk on Friday afternoon and my legs would practically sieze up... they were just ridiculously sore from sitting all day after squatting. Just by changing position throughout the day, I'm still sore, but I never deal with the really intense soreness I used to get from being stagnant. It's anecdotal, but I'd say changing position reduces my leg soreness at least 15-20%.
Maybe you don't have the option of changing your desk (or, even better, don't use a desk at all). But add a timer to the days you get really sore, keep yourself moving around more consciously, and you could see a similar reduction in soreness.
"Firm Up" Your Sofa for Leg & Back Soreness
So with the desk example above, I was sort of expecting to notice... something. However, we recently retired our old brown leather sofa, and added the Janis Sectional. Modern sofas, and even this particular mid Century modern sectional, are notoriously firm, which was alright by me. Nevertheless, I'm surprised how much better my posture is after just a month or so.
We added an ottoman to the mix as well. The result? Having the option to put my feet up or down, and sitting at angles closer to 90-degrees seems to help reduce soreness too! I particularly notice it on Tuesdays and Fridays - my deadlift and squat days.
Rather than sinking into our old squishy sofa with my knees above my hips, our newer sofa keeps me seated in a more comfortable, neutral position.
Am I saying you should swap out your sofa for one of our designs? Of course not! But you could...;-)
You could also find a firm pillow or pad to place on your sofa or any other main seating area(s) in your home. The focus should be to avoid furniture that "slouches."
Consider Replacing Your Mattress for Back Soreness
I hear you... "Of course, the furniture guy says I need a new mattress!"
But, no, that's not what I mean at all! Buying a mattress online seems crazy to me. Furthermore, that whole "replace your mattress every X years" is a total scam.
What I'm getting to is how well do you sleep? Mattress "technology" (that doesn't seem right) is advancing, and the number of foams, memory foams, hybrids, etc. is getting sort of ridiculous.
But, if you wake up with an achy back on an innerspring mattress, you should consider replacing it. Innerspring mattresses are notorious for creating pain points, which exacerbates muscle soreness and slows recovery. There's not a ton of data out there, and buying a mattress is very personal. The limited science I've seen shows that a mattress with a "high rebound" top layer - we're talking "pillowtop" - improves sleep by cooling your body and increasing deep sleep.
Go With Backless Stools for Your Core
This isn't a change I've implemented personally (we have these), but that's mainly because I don't often sit at our kitchen island. Nevertheless, if you're trying to minimize soreness in your back, abdominal muscles, obliques, etc., consider swapping to stools (or, if you're really bold, even chairs) with a backless design.
Backless stools require more core activation to maintain your posture - an easy subconscious change to your routine that will simulate active recovery after core-centric workouts while you grab a meal.
Swap to a Rocker or Recliner for Your Legs & Back
Let's say your routine involves relaxing on the barcalounger at the end of the day. Just like my sofa swap above, change that up!
Instead of relaxing with a beer or reading a book in a fixed position, try a chair that lets you move around. Anything from one of our modern lounge chairs, a Lay-Z-Boy recliner, or even a vintage rocking chair you grab in a yard sale will do. The main goal is to add small movements and muscle activations to your chill out time, which will aid muscle recovery and lessen your overall soreness.
Lose The Coffee Table & Add Yoga or Stretching
I hate stretching. Hate it. Wait... Where was I?
Oh yeah. Nuke your modern coffee table in the living room, and add a yoga mat somewhere. Maybe put in a decorative basket or on a bookshelf. Whatever! The goal is to put it in your line of sight to remind yourself to stretch at the end of the day (or whenever you chill out). You could achieve a similar goal with a set of bungies or tension bands.
Alternatively, you could swap your coffee table for some poufs. They're easier to move around, decorative, and could actually be a great seat while you stretch. And as a added bonus, your living room won't look empty!
Brainstorm Your Own Ideas to Keep Moving
If you're like me, a lot of the "traditional" options to avoid soreness just require more time than I'm willing to give up. However, by modifying your home and/or office environments, you can prod yourself to stay a little more active, which is proven to reduce soreness.
For me, a standing desk and sofa change did the trick. For you, it might be adding a rocking chair or eating dinner at your counter instead of the dining table. Regardless, the idea is that whether you spend your home time in the living room, bedroom or dining room, consider ways to make those spaces more conducive to movement.
How to Prevent Soreness Before Your Workout
Going into your workouts, there's a few steps you can take to minimize soreness and even improve performance overall.
Sweet, Sweet Caffeine
It turns out that you can start dodging soreness before you even leave for the gym! There's science to suggest caffeine improves your performance in myriad ways. But what's interesting is that this study indicates that taking a recommended dose of caffeine before you workout will also reduce post workout soreness!
So you can get your fix, with the added bonus of feeling better later.
Personally, I start weight lifting workouts with a compound lift and a light rep scheme before getting to my heavy sets. For my Friday morning front squats, as an example, I do this:
- Set of 12 with the bar, rest 1 minute
- Set of 10 with 50% of my working weight, rest 1 minute
- Set of 4 with 70% of my working weight, rest 1 minute
- Set of 1 with 90% of my working weight
When I go rock climbing, I typically start with a handful of easier routes and then work up to my "projects."
Eating Tart Cherries
I know. This one's weird. I don't do it (I have the palette of a four year old). Nevertheless, the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that supplementing with tart cherry juice before and after a marathon reduced inflammation and aided in recovery!
Let's be real: If you're into fitness, muscle soreness and DOMS is going to be inescapable. The best plan to minimize your pain is pretty simple:
- Try a pre-workout with caffeine or a cup of coffee
- Warm up properly before exercising
- Ease into new exercises or lifts gradually
- Add a yoga practice to your fitness regimen
- Try foam rolling post workout (before you're sore!)
- If you've got the cheddar, schedule regular massages
- Eat (or drink) tart Cherries
- Make a plan to keep your body moving, especially after workouts that typically cause soreness. One way to do that is making simple changes to your furniture to facilitate more movement and better posture throughout the day.
Post written by Kevin Sykes. Kevin is a Co-Owner and Co-Founder of Modern Digs and loves all things mid-Century modern. You'll find him weight lifting or rock climbing with his kids around Austin!
posted on 8/29/2019