Ask the trainer: How can I avoid soreness after a workout?

—Emi, Norton, Massachusetts

Working out generally makes us feel great. However, sometimes after a workout we experience muscle soreness for a few days. Physical activity, specifically eccentric contractions (the lengthening phase of muscle contraction—for example, when you lower your arm in a bicep curl), can cause microscopic tears to the muscle fibers. These tears cause an inflammatory response in the body, which results in sore muscles for a day or two after a workout. This is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.

DOMS is the body’s normal reaction to exercise, and you shouldn’t worry much about it. If your soreness or discomfort lasts longer than two days, it’s possible that you overdid it and should tone down the workout next time. While DOMS is normal, there are certain things that you can do to minimize the effects.

Muscle soreness is more likely to occur after periods of inactivity or after performing a certain motion or move that you haven’t done in a while. Increasing the intensity of a particular motion, even one that you’re used to performing, may also cause DOMS. You can prevent or decrease the effects of DOMS in two ways:

  • Ease into your exercise routine. DOMS is the result of the body adapting to new stresses that have been placed on it. Gradually increase the intensity of your exercise over time. The more you perform a certain exercise, the less soreness you will have the next time you do it. Getting into a consistent routine with careful progression of weight and intensity will help to decrease DOMS but not necessarily eliminate it all together.
  • Increase the blood flow to the affected areas. Light exercise, such as walking, biking, swimming, or doing simple body weight exercises, will help loosen the muscles and decrease soreness. It may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you’re feeling sore, but it’s one of the best things you can do. Inactivity will prolong the soreness. Gentle massage with a foam roller or another self-massage tool can help increase blood flow as well.

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