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- Muscle soreness after a workout, no matter the intensity, is something almost everyone experiences at some point.
- Despite the discomfort, it's totally normal to feel sore, especially if you're starting a new routine.
- Below, we've rounded up a few methods for relieving sore muscles, as well as the best tools and products that can help.
Feeling sore after starting a new workout routine is both normal and inevitable — especially for beginners. But fret not, that discomfort you feel is all part of the process and means your body is getting used to being used in a new way.
"If you are a 'beginner' in fitness, resistance training, or high-intensity exercise, then DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) is more likely," said personal, Laura Hoggins, to Insider reporter, Rachel Hosie.
It's also worth pointing out that soreness is not a barometer for how effective a workout is. In other words, don't be discouraged if you aren't experiencing any post-workout DOMS. Just because you're muscles aren't sore doesn't mean you aren't making progress — and ramping up your workout in search of that soreness can do more harm than good.
That's why it's vital to take recovery and rest just as seriously as you do your workouts, no matter if you're just starting out a new routine or you're a seasoned fitness pro. Not only does this help avoid injury but it's also an essential part of getting fit.
Thankfully, there are plenty of accessible methods for beginners to relieve muscle pain and foster recovery and rest. From at-home personal massagers and foam rollers to compression sleeves and just run-of-the-mill stretching, how you recover and rehab after a workout is as important as the workout itself.
If you're wondering… should I be this sore?
If you feel sore — even really sore — after your workout, that's totally normal. It's technically called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and sets in 24 to 48 hours after your workout. How sore you feel depends on how hard you went as well as what kind of workouts you were doing.
"You may be able to do some workouts where the soreness level is lower, but even experienced exercisers will have soreness from time to time," Boyd said. "It's your body's natural way of telling you that you did something and it's part of the natural recovery process for damaged muscles."
Generally, it's okay to exercise when you're feeling sore, but avoid working those same muscles that are feeling it most and don't go at the same intensity that caused the soreness in the first place. For example, if your arms and back feel sore from a strength workout, you might go for a run instead.
Even more important: "A heightened level of soreness over a long period of time can lead to burnout, poor performance, and overtraining," Boyd said.
So, it's crucial to take recovery days to allow soreness to subside.
You should be sore in the areas you know you worked out, Higgins said. That means if you did heavy squats or deadlifts, expect soreness in the quads, glutes, or hamstrings.
"If you start to feel joint pain or bony pain, that may signal that something wasn't quite right," he explained. "Maybe that was poor form, too many reps, or too much weight."
DOMS should also subside about 72 hours after training. If it lasts longer than that, you might have overdone it.
It's key to choose a program that's appropriate for your fitness level to avoid that overly sore feeling, Higgins said. "We don't want an individual who's getting into strength and conditioning to push themselves so much that they can't get back to the gym."
Don't go too hard too quick and instead, stick with a workout you can maintain. Then have a plan to progress it.
And even though it's unlikely, if you're going hard and regularly sore, you need to know to avoid rhabdomyolysis, which is when your muscle breaks down to the point of being a medical emergency, Higgins said. With this, you'll also experience urination for a prolonged period of time or dark-colored urine. If that occurs, see a doctor immediately.
When you inevitably get sore from your workouts, follow these strategies to help you deal (these are perfect choices for active rest days, too):
1. Do light cardio
A stationary bike offers a great way to get the body moving and the blood flowing. It offers a low-impact way to work the knees, hips, and ankles through their full range of motion, Higgins said.
The goal isn't really to get the heart rate up, but just to move the body and improve circulation. A 20- or 30-minute walk (at a pace you can chat with a friend) will do the trick, too.
2. Move through a mobility routine
Higgins defines mobility as how well an individual moves freely and efficiently. This includes having a good range of motion in your joints, control of that motion, and strength and endurance.
Almost every workout program offers mobility workouts, many of which feature active stretching. Like a light cardio session, a mobility workout helps get the blood flowing, Higgins said, which, in turn, helps ease soreness.
3. Learn to love your foam roller
Before your workout, foam rolling, stretching, and doing an active warm-up reduces DOMS from the subsequent sweat session, reports a 2020 systematic review out of South Africa. You can also foam roll after your workout and on rest days to help blood flow through your muscles and shuttle fresh nutrients to repair them.
Note: Rolling on sore muscles can definitely feel a little uncomfortable but it shouldn't be above a 4 out of 10, Higgins said. If it's too painful, look for a softer roller. "You want a positive experience because that leads to consistency," Higgins adds.
4. Try a percussion massage gun
Massage guns give you the same effect as foam rolling (namely, getting more blood to your muscles) and can take away some of the sting of a deep massage thanks to their high vibrations. Massage guns also tend to be easier to use since you don't have to get on the floor.
They feature different levels of intensity and various attachments, which allows for a customizable experience, Higgins says.
5. Wear compression boots
If you're willing to splurge a little, Higgins suggests NormaTec Compression Boots, which are basically air massagers for your legs. These boots zip up and provide compression that increases and decreases throughout however long you choose to wear them.
They do an excellent job of promoting blood flow and oxygen for your muscles and can help with lymphatic drainage, Higgins said. Plus, they just feel good. Many physical therapy centers and some fitness studios have access to these boots in which you pay per session.