JC Cross demonstrates a leg and core exercise with dumbbellsMuscle soreness is a familiar companion to anyone embarking on a new fitness journey or pushing their limits in a workout. Known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), this phenomenon can be both a badge of honor and a deterrent. However, understanding and working through muscle soreness is key to conditioning your body to exercise effectively. In this post, I’ll explore the nature of muscle soreness, strategies to manage it, and how to use it to your advantage in building a stronger, more resilient body.

Understanding Muscle Soreness

Muscle soreness typically occurs 12-24 hours after intense physical activity and peaks around 24-72 hours. It’s a result of microscopic damage to muscle fibers during exercise, particularly from eccentric (lengthening) movements like lowering weights or running downhill. This damage is a normal part of the muscle-building process, as it triggers inflammation and the subsequent repair process that leads to stronger muscles.

Embracing the Soreness: The Mental Shift

  • Reframe the Pain: Instead of viewing soreness as a negative, see it as a sign that your muscles are adapting and growing stronger. This mental shift can transform your attitude towards post-workout discomfort.
  • Set Realistic Expectations: Understand that soreness is part of the process, especially in the early stages of a new exercise regimen. It will diminish as your body adapts, but it never fully disappears as long as you continue to challenge your muscles.

Practical Strategies to Manage and Work Through Soreness

  1. Active Recovery: Light activities such as walking, cycling, or yoga can increase blood flow to sore muscles, helping to reduce stiffness and promote healing without adding significant strain.
  2. Compression: Massage those muscles. Effective healing depends upon blood flow. Use a foam roller to help relax your tense muscles and move blood through the area. For acute points, use a lacrosse ball or tennis ball. Don’t forget to incorporate dynamic stretches before workouts and static stretches afterward to maintain a healthy range of motion.
  3. Hydration and Nutrition: Staying hydrated helps flush out toxins from muscles, while proper nutrition provides the building blocks for repair. Focus on protein intake to support muscle recovery, along with a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals.
  4. Rest and Sleep: Adequate rest is crucial for muscle recovery. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep, as this is when the body does most of its repair work. Listen to your body and incorporate rest days as needed.
  5. Gradual Progression: Avoid the temptation to jump into intense workouts too quickly. Gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your exercises allows your muscles to adapt without excessive soreness.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small percentage should you choose to purchase something. I never post anything I cannot wholeheartedly endorse. Your support helps keep my business going. Thank you.

Using the ACHE Protocol

I have used the ACHE protocol to aid my recovery and that of my clients for many years. For achy muscles remember this simple acrostic:

  • Active Recovery
    • Move your blood to speed recovery by engaging in light exercise.
  • Compression
    • As referenced above, compression helps relax muscles, reduce myofascial pain, and circulate blood.
  • Heat and Ice
    • Rotating between heat and ice causes the blood vessels to expand and constrict, respectively. They function like a pump to move blood through the muscles.
  • Elevation
    • For any blood pooling in the legs and feet, elevate them above the heart to assist blood flow.

The protocol moves from mild to severe. Active recovery should alleviate most soreness. For more intense soreness, work down the list.

Working Through Soreness to Make Gains

  • Tracking Progress: Mild soreness after a workout can indicate that you’re effectively challenging your muscles. Use this feedback to adjust your training intensity and ensure you’re progressively overloading your muscles.
  • Variety in Workouts: Incorporate a mix of different exercises to target various muscle groups and reduce the likelihood of overworking the same muscles repeatedly. This can help manage soreness and prevent overuse injuries.
  • Consistency is Key: Regular exercise is essential for conditioning your body. Over time, your muscles will become more resilient, and the intensity of soreness will decrease. Consistency helps your body adapt more efficiently to physical demands.

When to Be Cautious

While some soreness is normal, severe pain, sharp discomfort, or prolonged soreness may indicate an injury. Pay attention to your body’s signals and seek professional advice if you experience these symptoms. Additionally, conditions such as rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition resulting from extreme muscle breakdown, require immediate medical attention. This normally only occurs after prolonged, high-intensity exercise.


Muscle soreness is an inevitable part of the journey toward a fitter, stronger body. By understanding its role in muscle adaptation and employing strategies to manage it, you can work through soreness effectively and use it to gauge your progress. Remember, the discomfort is temporary, but the benefits of a well-conditioned body are long-lasting. Embrace the burn, stay consistent, and watch as your body transforms through resilience and dedication.