When I lift weights, I lift heavy. I expect to be sore afterwards because I know I've pushed myself hard. Unfortunately, sometimes I push myself too far and get very bad delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). What can I do either before working out to prevent excessive soreness or after working out to relieve the soreness?

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Nothing will totally prevent or 100% effectively treat Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

To treat DOMS though, you can try:

  • Ending your workout with aerobic exercise will decrease it
  • Taking aspirin or ibuprofen will reduce the pain
    • You shouldn't take ibuprofen before working out.
    • This will only treat the symptoms and will not reduce healing time.

To prevent DOMS:

  • A good warm up will go a long way in reducing the soreness.
  • Avoid sudden major changes in workout type or length. Work into it.

For more tips (some with significantly less scientific backing) see the Sports Medicine article on About.com

  • 2
    +1 because a good stretch/warm up routine is great way to get a better work out and protect your muscles. – DustinDavis Mar 11 '11 at 22:06
  • 5
    Actually, there is evidence appearing now that NSAID's like aspirin & ibuprofen actually slow healing and with too much use, weaken tissues. Unless you have some serious swelling, they are best avoided. – Yevgeniy Brikman Mar 15 '11 at 22:39
  • how about epsom salt will they help? – KJYe.Name Apr 11 '11 at 19:37
  • @kjy112 - I'd suggest turning that into a new question! – Nathan Wheeler Apr 14 '11 at 0:02
  • nah it's too minor for an entire question thanks tho – KJYe.Name Apr 14 '11 at 1:10

I'm personally not convinced that stopping DOMS is a good idea. The processes behind super-compensation (which is what makes your muscles stronger) are not completely understood and there is some initial evidence that DOMS is part of this process. This implies that reducing DOMS will reduce the weight-building effect.

I will say that, from my personal experience, more training reduces DOMS. Specifically, as an ultra runner, as I start doing back-to-back long distance (two days of long runs) then my DOMS starts reducing - to the point where I've done 80km in a weekend and had no DOMS.

Secondly, if you're going to use a NSAID (like aspirin or ibuprofen) then make sure you are normally hydrated. There is increasing evidence that they can harm your liver or kidneys when associated with dehydration or alcohol.

DOMS is not well understood and there aren't too many foolproof methods to prevent/treat it. At the end of the day, time is the only thing that is guaranteed to help: both in terms of DOMS going away after a few days, as well as your body getting more used to the exercise with more practice. Other than that, some things that may help:

  • Sleep more
  • Eat more
  • Massage
  • Active recovery: very light, low intensity exercise to flush blood through the area
  • Ice
  • Contrast showers
  • Make sure to warm-up properly before workouts

Potassium helps a great deal. Keep in mind when you're lifting, you're tearing muscle fibers (That's how your muscles grow). It actually helps more of the stiffness than soreness.

Another (and better IMO) method is to get a high quality whey protein powder with high amounts of branch chain amino-acids, which protect and decrease muscle damage/inflammation. So protein powders or EAAs supplements high in BCAAs.
Taken post work out you should notice a difference and it's a good idea anyway.

Also make sure you give proper rest between sets. 30-60 seconds between sets is optimal.

You may also want to read this article about DOMS.

Cold bath, right after a workout. I don't recall where I heard about this. I tried it once and it did work, although anecdotal evidence based on one trial is hardly proof.

The context, I went for a really hard run, long enough that I would normally be very sore next day. As soon as I got back to the apartment, I jumped into the bathtub filled with cold water and a few trays of ice cubes. I stayed there for about 5 min. The next day, I wasn't sore at all.

A worthwhile approach with these kind of problems is invert. That is, if you wanted to make yourself as sore as possible, what would you do?

  • You'd have a period of at least a couple weeks where you did no exercise
  • You would do exercise(s) you're very unfamiliar with
  • You would make sure they involved eccentric loading
  • You would not take time to progress the movement. You'd jump in; do it balls to the wall

Said another way,

  • People who have never worked out, or have not worked out in a while, are much more at risk of getting DOMS than those who are consistently exercising
  • Whenever a person does a brand new movement, they're more at risk of soreness than if they've been doing that movement consistently
  • Concentric only and or isometrics do not make people as sore as eccentrics (running down hill is a common way to cause DOMS in research studies (running makes people more sore than biking))
  • If the movement is unfamiliar / you're untrained / it involves eccentric, you can still avoid soreness by only doing the movement very lightly e.g. a bench press with no barbell is unlikely to cause DOMS

With my clients the biggest consideration is familiarization. Somebody is brand new? You want to have them do ~50% of what they could do. When they leave the gym, I tell them "We want you to feel like you could go do that entire workout over again. It should be that easy the first day." Even then, many will come back "Wow, I'm surprised I had some soreness from that."

I do the same thing when someone comes back from vacation.

After one or two sessions of getting in the groove of the movement, the odds of soreness go down dramatically. However, if you overnight double someone's squat volume -again, something the person is not familiar with- the odds of DOMS go way up again.

Long story short, people who are consistently training a movement -two times a week or more- rarely get severe soreness from that movement.

Have you tried to take 1g (1,000mg) of Vitamin C approximately one hour before your workout? You can also take another gram an hour or two after your workout (half-life of Vitamin C is approx 3-4 hours).

The basic idea is that having an antioxidant in your system will combat any oxidation that is caused by the workout. (Trying to be brief here) I'll try to add references/links in an update.


Another method you can try is to alternate hot and cold water during your after-workout shower. Try 20-30 seconds per cycle (approx)

The water should expand/contract your blood vessels and in doing so, could 'wash' out any waste products in your blood stream.


Still sore? Treat soreness with an analgesic creme, like Aspercreme. Use it to keep the pain-levels down to something more managable.

It is a well answered question but I wanted to add extra information about DOMS here

Muscle soreness may occur after an acute training session, especially resistance training. The soreness manifests itself as stiffness, tenderness, inflammation and/or pain, and as it occurs between 24–48 hours following the training session is referred to as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The exact mechanism for DOMS is not fully understood but it appears that acute exercise, especially eccentric contractions, causes damage to the ultrastructure, potentially the Z-lines, of the muscle cell. Plasma creatine kinase is used as a marker for muscle damage.

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