Guru Kate: Surefire ways to prevent muscle soreness

Illustration by Casey Kleeb

Whether you’re reading this as a college-level athlete or a couch-potato level athlete, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) has likely hit you at one point or another. Typical symptoms are limping, whining to friends or skipping a few gym days. If you’re not into these setbacks, there are changes you can incorporate into your after-workout routine.

DOMS comes from micro muscle tears that happen during a workout. In response, your body stimulates an immune response to fix these tiny tears, but it can take a couple of weeks to completely heal.

What does this mean for your body and the level of pain typically associated with DOMS? It is important to differentiate DOMS from legitimate injury, as DOMS can heal itself over time (sped up by certain recovery habits), and injuries need to be treated by a doctor or physical therapist.

According to a literature review conducted by Vanshika Sethi in 2012, DOMS is characterized by soreness and aching starting 12 to 24 hours after exercise that reaches peak discomfort two to three days after exercise.

The muscle will be tender to the touch and will only get more painful with further exercise. Sometimes, the muscle will spontaneously shorten, which causes the stiffening sensation. You may also experience loss of range of motion in the 12 to 24 hours before muscle soreness sets in. This can be followed by muscle weakness that lasts for one to two weeks.

Now for the good news. This pain and whining can be prevented by boosting the most common molecule in the human body: dihydrogen oxide. That’s just the fancy term for water, so don’t get freaked out.

Increases in hydration has been shown to decrease protein degradation, the main cause of muscle soreness. It is especially important to rehydrate and take frequent breaks when exercising in a hot, humid environment. Hot yoga, anyone?

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Speaking of yoga, warm-up exercises such as dynamic stretching (movement while stretching) can reduce the likelihood of developing DOMS. Warm-ups drive blood to the muscles and activate the muscle fibers, preventing micro-tears.

In addition, pre-exercise stretching reduced the risk of injury during exercise by 5 percent, with some sports health professionals touting up to a 70 percent reduction in injuries credited solely to pre-exercise warm-ups. Static stretching (where you hold a stretch while staying still) marginally helps prevent muscle soreness, but according to WebMD, static stretches should be done after exercise, when the muscles are warm. To be effective, each stretch should be held for over 30 seconds.

Drinking more water and dynamic stretching are two easy steps to becoming a sports legend. In your championship trophy acceptance speech, feel free to thank The Northern Light. We won’t mind.