For athletes, there are two kinds of muscle soreness. The first is the burning sensation you get during a workout from the buildup of lactic acid in your bloodstream. It usually happens as your muscles begin to weaken and your performance starts to flag. It is a signal that you’re reaching your limit. One of the reasons for training is to build you up enough that you can go further before you get this signal, or that you can push a little more even after it happens. In any case, this kind of soreness dissipates rapidly when you stop exercising.
Recovery Soreness (DOMS)
The second kind of muscle soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It occurs 24 to 72 hours after you stop exercising. It is a signal that your muscles are healing from your recent effort. Unlike the first type of soreness, it doesn’t dissipate quickly. In addition, you should not try to push through it. Let me repeat that. Do not try to exercise vigorously when you have DOMS. If you do, you will inhibit the recovery process and you will risk damaging your muscles.
Do not take painkillers, such as NSAIDs (e.g., ibuprofen), to deal with DOMS. A mouse study published in 2017 showed that NSAIDs hinder the healing process and prevent the strength and endurance gains that are supposed to come from your workout. Previous studies of human subjects had already showed that NSAIDs can reduce aerobic benefits by limiting the ratio of blood capillaries to muscle fibers. If you’re going to take NSAIDs after a workout, you might as well not work out to begin with, because you won’t get much benefit from it.
Pain Relief Without Chemicals
If you can’t learn to love your DOMS, there are ways to alleviate it that do not involve painkillers. One way is mild exercise, particularly exercise of the muscle groups that aren’t sore. So if your legs are sore from an intense or extended bike ride, try doing some mild upper body work with a resistance band. Do some muscle stretching or yoga. Go for a walk or a relaxing swim. But to protect yourself from injury or overtraining, don’t do another intense workout until the soreness goes away.
If the soreness isn’t going away fast enough, and it never seems to when you have a schedule of workouts to follow, find other ways to relieve it. Cold is good for this. For centuries, coaches and athletes have found that ice baths can relieve DOMS and let them start to work out again faster. I have a bias against ice baths, however, and you can read about it here. The gist is I consider ice baths to be dangerous.
Whole Body Cryotherapy for Athletic Recovery
For cold to alleviate DOMS, I recommend whole body cryotherapy (WBC). At three minutes, a WBC session doesn’t take long enough for your thermoregulation processes to catch up. Thus, no shivering or chattering and very little discomfort. In effect, WBC bypasses your thermoregulation. Instead, when your body senses the extreme cold of the WBC cabinet, it goes straight from thermoregulation to survival mode. Your blood moves away from your skin and extremities in order to warm your core, where it receives nutrients and enzymes. After three minutes, during which you never get numb, you leave the cabinet, and your nutrient rich blood floods back from your core to create a rejuvenation effect, often accompanied by a flood of endorphins.
Whole-body cryotherapy is one of the most efficient and safest ways I know to alleviate DOMS. It’s the best way I know to get out there faster without risking injury or overtraining. Book a session today.