Training & Nutrition

How To Reduce DOMS and Muscle Ache After the Gym

Walking a bit squiffy after your gym session? Here are our tips..

The guys and gals who work at the gym are probably used to the pattern. Every winter, hundreds of athletes – runners, cyclists, triathletes – wander into the gym. Blinking under the lights, they make their way to the weights area and pick up where they left off last winter – only to return walking like John Wayne with a wedgie the next day.

Over winter, many cyclists put a focus on core strength. This is an important component to the sport, a strong core can reduce fatigue, increase power and limit injury. It’s also a good idea to focus on it over winter, when the resulting Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) won’t get in the way of events and planned days out on the bike. And the weather is rubbish anyway.

Beginner Tips for Joining the Gym

Though DOMS – that nasty heavy feeling in your legs that appears 1-2 days after a strength session or hard ride – are better dealt with over winter, they’re not all that pleasant and the more you can reduce them the better you’ll feel.

Here are just a few ways to make DOMS disappear more quickly…

Don’t overdo it in the first place

Start without a weight

Too late? Well, bear this in mind for next time.

Soreness after a workout is not a bad thing. DOMS occur when you push your muscles out of their normal comfort zone, causing  microscopic damage to muscle fibres – when these heal, adaption takes place and that’s how you become stronger (fitter, better, faster).

However, you don’t want to push so far that you find yourself hardly able to walk for three days, and nor do you want to cause injury by carrying out moves or using weights that your body isn’t ready for.

When beginning a new strength training programme, or any new training programme, build up slowly. If the last time you touched the dumbbells was in February last year, you won’t be able to use the same weight in December. Begin with body weight exercises, then add weights when you’re ready, and increase the kg or repetitions incrementally, over a period of weeks or months.

It’s also a good idea to plan to keep up with one to two gym sessions a week throughout the year – that’ll limit the chances of you being back in the same position again come next winter.

Always Warm Up and Cool Down

Cool down before you stop and smile!

If you hit the hard stuff straight away, or don’t let your muscles slowly unwind after a workout, it won’t be surprising if you end up straining a muscle.

Make sure you always warm up and cool down – you can use body weight exercises such as squats and press ups to warm up, and spin on an exercise bike for ten minutes at the end to cool down.

Hot/Cold showers

Blood pumping around your body transports nutrients and oxygen to muscles – increasing that blood flow will help DOMS to heal up more quickly. There are many hot/cold creams you can rub on your skin, which provide the sensation of heating or cooling. However, it’s actually increasing and decreasing temperature with hot and cold water (or a hot water bottle and ice packs) that causes ‘vasodilation’ and ‘vasoconstriction’ of blood vessels giving the desired effect.

If you’re going for water with your post workout shower, focus the jets on areas that are sore, and switch between hot and cold – but don’t burn yourself or turn your body blue!

If you’re able to, many physiotherapists recommend swapping between a hot water bottle and an ice pack (or frozen peas) for twenty minutes at a time.

Wear compression clothing


You know the funny looking, super tight clothing? It does serve a purpose.

Studies have shown that compression wear can improve circulation by 15 percent if worn for just 15 minutes, which will help deliver all the good stuff to your muscles to aid repair.

Stretch and use a foam roller

Image: 360 conditioning

The tiny myofascial adhesions (tears) caused by tough rides will make your muscles feel tight – which means you need to stretch them out.

Simple stretches are a good place to start – begin with dynamic stretches where you include movement to prevent from overstraining.

Using a foam roller will also help smooth out the knots and tight  areas, whilst increasing blood flow. The IT band along your outer thigh, quads and hamstrings are good areas to focus on – lie on the foam roller and slowly move along the muscle, before returning to your starting point. Aim to roll each section 12 times (ouch, we know – but you’ll feel great the next day!)

Drink coffee

We were surprised, too. We all know that caffeine can increase performance if administered in the right dosage. However, a 2009 study from the University of Illinois showed that men (and we assume women) given a caffeine tablet before a workout – to the tune of 2.5 to 3 cups worth – suffered less post-workout pain than those given a placebo.

Stay hydrated

Hydration is always important – but even more so when you’re pushing your muscles. When you’re dehydrated, muscle tissue dries out, losing strength and elasticity – strain on this tissue will result in more tearing than normal. Stay hydrated, and your muscle tissue will be more able to absorb the work you give your body.

Active Recovery

Sometimes when you’re all sore, the last thing you want to do is pedal, or move at all. However, gentle (we mean REALLY gentle) exercise will get the blood pumping around your body, again increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to those sore bits.

New to the gym? Check out these beginner tips and our 60 minute workout defined by Revolution Cycling coach Kerry Bircher. 

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