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How to Reduce Muscle Soreness

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How to Reduce Muscle Soreness

In this article, you’ll not only learn how to reduce muscle soreness, but why muscle soreness isn’t as important as many people think…

 

If you exercise regularly, and especially if you lift weights, you’ve probably gotten used to stiff, sore muscles (especially after legs day!).

We all learn to just deal with it, but sometimes it can be quite uncomfortable.

Fortunately, there are some simple, scientifically proven strategies that reduce muscle soreness (and no, reducing muscle soreness won’t reduce your gains!).

But before we go over the strategies, I want to first address a common misconception about muscle soreness: that it means your muscles are growing.

It doesn’t, and it turns out that how sore your muscles get after a workout isn’t necessarily a good way to judge the effectiveness of your training.

Muscle Soreness Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Muscle Growth

Most people think that really sore muscles is a good sign–that it means the muscles are growing.

This seems to make intuitive sense, of course. We’re training to damage our muscles, and muscle damage leads to muscle soreness, so therefore little or no soreness would mean little or no damage and thus little or no gains, right?

It turns out it’s not that simple.

Workouts that create large amounts of muscle soreness won’t necessarily result in muscle growth, and workouts that cause little-to-no soreness can result in significant muscle growth.

For instance, if you do an hour of downhill running, your legs are going to be very sore the next day, but downhill running is definitely not going to build big, strong legs.

To quote researchers from Yokohama City University:

“Because of generally poor correlations between DOMS [delayed onset muscle soreness] and other indicators, we conclude that use of DOMS is a poor reflector of eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation, and changes in indirect markers of muscle damage and inflammation are not necessarily accompanied with DOMS.”

In other words, damaged muscles won’t necessarily hurt, and muscles that hurt aren’t necessarily much damaged. (Click to tweet this!)

The exact physiology behind this isn’t fully understood yet (muscle growth is a very complicated process), but one study demonstrated that at least some of the pain we’re feeling in muscle soreness stems from the connective tissue holding muscle fibers together, not from the actual fibers themselves.

We also know that the more often the muscles are exposed to certain types of stimuli, the less sore they become as a result. That doesn’t mean they won’t grow bigger and stronger, though.

Certain exercises also cause more soreness than others, but those aren’t necessarily the most effective exercises for building strength or size. For instance, the stretching involved in dumbbell flys is likely to cause soreness, but they’re a pretty poor movement for adding mass when compared to something like incline bench press, which is likely to cause less soreness.

Personally, I only get really  sore from a workout if I missed it the week prior. When I’m in my normal routine, I only get mildly sore, and I work hard in the gym. And I continue to build strength and size.

So, the bottom line with muscle soreness is this: it doesn’t tell us much regarding whether we’re making gains or not. Don’t think that excessive soreness means major muscle growth, and don’t worry if you’re not getting sore. (Click to tweet this!)

How to Reduce Muscle Soreness and Improve Muscle Recovery

Before I get to workable strategies for reducing muscle soreness, I want to go over a few commonly commonly prescribed solutions that I don’t recommend:

  • Ice bath or other “cold therapy” strategies. Research has shown they don’t reduce muscle soreness, so no need to suffer through them.
  • Stretching. Studies have proven that stretching, both before and after exercise, doesn’t help reduce muscle soreness.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs. While nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce muscle soreness, they can also inhibit protein synthesis, which means less muscle growth.

Alright, let’s get to the recommended solutions:

  • Get a massage. Research has shown that massage is an effective way to reduce the muscle soreness that occurs after exercise.
  • Do some foam rolling. According to this study, foam rolling reduces the severity of DOMS that occurs after training, and increases range of motion.
  • Active recovery can help. Active recovery is simply a workout that’s easier than the one that caused the soreness, and it’s one you should finish feeling better than when you started. This has been proven to reduce muscle soreness. My favorite forms of active recovery are biking for the legs, and swimming for the upper body.
  • Enjoy some yoga. Yup, research has shown that yoga can help reduce muscle soreness. I did one yoga class per week for a couple months to try this and definitely noticed a reduction in muscle stiffness and soreness.
  • Supplement with carnitine. L-carnintine is one of the few supplements proven to help reduce muscle soreness (and that’s why I included it in my muscle recovery supplement, Recharge.)
  • Improve muscle recovery. By doing everything you can to maximize muscle recovery, you can help reduce muscle soreness. Check out my Definitive Guide to Muscle Recovery to learn more.

 

Have any other strategies for reducing muscle soreness? Or anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!

 

How to get lean and build serious muscle and strength, faster than you ever thought possible…

Depending on how you eat, train, and rest, building muscle and losing fat can be incredibly easy or incredibly hard. Unfortunately, most people make many different mistakes that leave them stuck in a rut. And that’s why I wrote Bigger Leaner Stronger for men, and Thinner Leaner Stronger for women: they lay out EVERYTHING you need to know about diet and training to build muscle and lose fat effectively… Black Friday Sale
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I’m Mike Matthews and I’ve been training for nearly a decade now. I believe that every person can achieve the body of his or her dreams, and I work hard to give everyone that chance by providing workable, proven advice grounded in science, not a desire to sell phony magazines, workout products, or supplements. More about me.

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41 Comments
  • James Johnson

    Great article! I will have to give Foam Rolling a try after my leg days! Which just so happens to be today… :-/

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Foam rolling is awesome. Give it a try!

  • Stuart Cullinan

    Hi Mike, I used to get soreness but I hardly get it at all any more. This is one of the benefits of full body programs and volume training. You are training each muslce group three times a week spreading the same tonage you would do in a split routine over the entire week. I still am able to grow in strength and size and I’m only in the gym 3 times a week. I don’t suffer from ‘leg day’ either for the same reasons and I’m squating 1.7 times my BW. It took some getting used to though because the soreness used to feel like validation of a good workout but actually frequency and progressive load pay off in the end you don’t have to have pain to gain.

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s great Stuart. I rarely get sore too. Keep up the good work!

  • Tia Kennedy

    Hey Mike. I’ve been really frustrated this week because I’ve not had sore muscles after any exercises aside from abs and I lifted til I couldn’t lift any more! Is there any way to know whether or not what you’re doing is working aside from waiting for no results? Also my joints are clicking like crazy when doing arms (I have NO arm muscle) to the point where I can’t go any further because of them. Do you have any idea what that could be? Maybe poor form? Its so frustrating because I put off arms for so long that now its hard to do alot of other areas because obviously they’re always involved. I love how your articles are based on fact by the way, there are alot of crazy opinion based things in forums when you google things LOL

    • Michael Matthews

      Good question!

      Honestly the best indicators of progress are the weights you’re lifting, the scale, and the mirror. If you’re getting stronger and seeing the changes you want to see in the mirror and on the scale, it’s working.

      Soreness really just dosn’t tell you much.

      Not sure on the clicking joints. Are you new to weightlifting?

      Also what type of program are you following?

      • Tia Kennedy

        Well thats a relief that the pain doesnt really matter! I am super duper new to lifting! I’m actually following thinner leaner stronger. I did this a few months ago and lost alot of weight but just starting again now and my joints are going crazy. Thanks for responding!

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah! That’s great, let me know how it goes! Your joints will toughen up. :)

  • Nik

    According to Mac Danzing (MMA fighter) & Chad Byers (Vegan Bodybuilder) and my personal experience, to be honest, eating less animal products and a lot more fruits & veggies boost recovery and helps attenuating DOMS. I can’t back this up with scientific studies, but, I felt this myself so I started searching and found out that most of vegetarians and vegan bodybuilders & powerlifters (Patrik Baboumian to name one) felt the same way when they switched to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Anyone else ? I would love to hear your opinion on this Mike!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for sharing Nik! I’ve never seen any research on this or experienced it myself, but I can see how more micronutrients in your diet could help (if you’re deficient in various vitamins and minerals, your recovery WILL suffer)…

  • Andrei Scumpu

    Hey Mike, I was wondering how you discover these research articles. I mean, obviously they’re on PubMed but do you regularly search keywords or MESH? Or do you have some centralized feeds that help keep you up to date? It seems rather burdensome to manually search pubmed and sort through the rubish…

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah I search PubMed and also read a lot of other people’s stuff as well as research reviews. Helps me dig up stuff. :)

      • Alexander Mark

        Hey Michael,

        I’m working on a web application that makes the process of finding these type of research findings incredibly easy. I’d love to talk to you more about it, and get some feedback on my direction if you’re interested. Let me know!

        • Michael Matthews

          Sounds great! Shoot me an email on it! (The form is at the bottom of the Start Here page.)

  • JD

    Hi Mike – thought I’d just drop a line and let you know that this article is bang on the money – as are your suggestions of lower reps and working within around 85% of your max when lifting. Had reached a bit of a plateau with some muscles – chest in particular. Trainer had me doing 8-12 reps with varies drop sets etc. Worked to a point, but just as you’ve said, you get the burn in your muscles – it feels like you’re doing something right – but the gains are small and not long-lasting. Couple of weeks ago decided to change my approach and go with 4-6 reps per set – making sure to always be at least 85% of my limit but not wanting to completely sacrifice form. I can see the difference after just two weeks – I never really ache at all, and at first it felt like I should be doing ‘more’…but the gains in mass are there to be seen. Chest has suddenly started bulking out…hallelujah…and it looks that way day after day. For others reading….honestly, give it a try and you’ll see the results…cheers!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks JD! Really glad to hear it! Keep up the good work and you’ll start seeing those gains everywhere!

  • Adriana

    Mike,
    When is the best time to use a foam roller? Immediately after working out, or a few hours later?

    • Michael Matthews

      Either or is fine. I prefer right after when my muscles are still warm.

  • Sean

    Mike, 5 years ago at 50 years old and very overweight I decided to jumpstart getting in shape by committing to a charity 10K. I had 4 months to train and the results were predictable. Pain. After days when I did a long run I struggled to get out of bed. I saw an article about a study on the effects of ginger on muscle soreness after workouts. They had subjects take 2 grams of Ginger a day and recorded soreness 1 and 2 days after hard workouts. The results they got were exactly what I saw when I started taking 1.5 grams of ginger per day. That being 50% reduction in soreness 1 day after workout and 25% reduction after 2 days. Like I said, I got the exact same result. Some days I’d get out of bed and forget that I’d had a long run the night before which was an amazing improvement. Anyway, That was 5 years and 40+ lbs ago and i still take 1.5 grams of ginger per day. Just starting your weightlifting routine to supplement my mountain biking and so far I love it. Give Ginger a try it’s benign and cheap.Thanks

    • Michael Matthews

      Wow amazing, thanks for sharing! I’m going to look into this…

  • Nichole Fuge Sykes

    Love your articles! I have Thinner, Leaner, Stronger. I recently started using a foam roller after workouts and notice a big difference in DOMS. Keep the good info coming!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Nichole! I really appreciate it and nice on the rolling! :)

  • Dillon F

    I’ve been working out for a long time. Even when I’ve been on the same routine for 2 months, I am still sore after every workout for 3 days after. Is this bad?

    • Michael Matthews

      Not necessarily. It may be a muscle recovery issue though:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /the-definitive-guide-to-muscle-recovery-and-muscle-growth/

      • Dillon F

        How would I go about improving recovery? I eat enough (at least I think so, I’m not getting any closer to a 6 pack), sleep 8 hours, get massages from the wife, drink protein shakes, etc. but still take a long time to recover and make gains. Maybe bad genetics?

  • Russ Vanover

    Massage works wonders… Would love to hear how to treat big injuries… My tweeked shoulder has sapped my momentum

  • coralharold

    Hey Mike! Great article as usual. This one actually came really handy due to last Sunday I didn’t stretch, just went right to workout and I worked out my upper body so I started with bodywieght pull-ups and injured my right shoulder. I thought with time it would go away but it’s still there, it goes on and off. My question was, when you say one of the not recommended to do is streching before or after workouts is necessary, I got lost. What could I’ve done wrong? And is there anything i can do to fix it. Educate me Mike! Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Arg, I’m sorry to hear that. It sounds like bad luck to be honest.

      You will want to lay off it and let it heal. Don’t do anything that aggravates it. Annoying, I know.

  • Henry Mark

    The best way to treat muscle soreness is to relax and to take rest.It will give the adequate time for recovery.
    You can know more about such tips here:
    http://www.informationbible.com/article-reduce-spondylitis-with-light-relief-374168.html

  • kishor

    how to pull 600lb with bad lower back dead lift i can pull 450llb easy

    • Michael Matthews

      Damn, I would watch out…

  • mfmaxpower

    Except for my hamstrings, I rarely get sore anymore when I train consistently. However, I do have issues with terrible fatigue at times.

    For example, last Saturday I did heavy deadlifts (4 sets x 5 reps), followed by a superset of front squats and RDLs (4 sets x 8 reps, both), followed by a higher-rep full-body circuit (fat loss is a priority at the moment).

    I felt awesome after the workout, but the following day and even now (Tuesday), three days later, I’m still feeling fatigued and just “down.” I normally lift again on Monday, but chose to take yesterday off.

    Any thoughts on this type of issue?

    • Michael Matthews

      Sounds like overtraining symptoms:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/8-signs-of-overtraining/

      That’s a LOT to do in one workout…

      • mfmaxpower

        Thanks for the response. Just wanted to say, I don’t usually do this but I’ve been very impressed with your web content and I’ve bought your book.

        I am a little concerned that you seem to favor bodypart splits (am I wrong?) and I’ve been having good results with more frequent training.

        • Michael Matthews

          YW! Thank you! Let me know what you think of the book.

          Yes given the intensity and volume of the program you’d find it very hard to repeat those workouts twice per week. That said, you could take the 12 weekly sets and break them into two separate workouts if you’d prefer: 6 sets in A, 6 in B.

          Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Matthias Copenhagen

    I take magnesium – makes a huge difference for me. I take 300-400mg after the workout and am comparibly less sore than without. However – I cant scientificly substantiate this. I googled it and can’t find the “why” behind unfortunately. It may only work with me ?!

    • Michael Matthews

      I’ve heard the same from other people. Magnesium does play a role in muscle relaxation so that could be it.

  • Jay

    Hi Mike, thanks for this article. I’ve been feeling a little down lately after noticing i don’t get as sore anymore even though I’m lifting heavy and when I do, i recover much faster than I used to when I first started this program. I guess that only means my body is becoming more efficient?
    My question is, can you still partly use muscle soreness as an indicator of recovery time needed? I know you’re supposed to let your muscles rest before hitting them again, but how do you gauge how much recovery time you need if soreness is not a good indicator? Usually if I’m still sore I avoid working out that body part because I don’t want to cause more damage. Insight?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah exactly. I don’t get very sore anymore regardless of what I do, but I continue to make gains.

      Soreness isn’t necessarily a good indicator of recovery. Just because a muscle is slightly sore doesn’t mean it can’t be trained again. You just need to balance your weekly volume and intensity. I talk about this here:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/training-frequency/

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