If yesterday’s workout is making your muscles scream today, take it as a good sign. You most likely have “delayed onset muscle soreness” (DOMS), and it means you worked hard enough to create tiny tears in your muscle fibers.
It can happen when you bump up your workout intensity, frequency, or length, or when you try a new activity. As your muscles heal, they’ll get bigger and stronger, paving the way to the next level of fitness.
The DOMS usually kicks in 12 to 24 hours after a tough workout and peaks between 24 to 72 hours. The soreness will go away in a few days. In the meantime, these tricks may help ease the pain.
Keep moving. You may want to cling to the sofa while your muscles recover, but moving your body could make you feel better. The trick is to do something light and gentle.
“My favorite is swimming or riding my bike, super easy, for an hour or so,” says Jennifer Rulon, a seven-time Ironman triathlete and triathlon coach.
Rest and recover. Some R&R is good, too.
“Rest days are crucial to recover,” Rulon says.
Taking a day off gives your body a chance to repair itself and replenishes your energy. Rulon says the second day after an intense workout can be the toughest. So she suggests doing light exercise the day after a heavy workout, then taking off the next day.
Apply heat (carefully). If your muscles still ache after 48 hours, try heat. It can stimulate blood flow to your muscles to ease tightness and help them feel better.
Try a warm (not hot) towel or heating pad. But be careful. Heat comes with a lot of red flags, Rulon says. “It can cause burns, along with further inflaming muscles.”
Avoid direct contact with any heating device.
Get a massage. It can relieve muscle tension, boost blood flow, and increase the range of motion in your joints, Rulon says. It’s also a great mood-lifter.
When your muscles are sore, a gentle massage is best. Choose one that uses light pressure, like a Swedish massage, which Rulon says is better for recovery than a deep-tissue massage. Or try tender-point acupressure: A massage therapist applies pressure and holds it directly on the tender areas.
Take an anti-inflammatory. Over-the-counter versions of these medications can reduce swelling and relieve pain. Try aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.