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If you’re back at the gym, prevent DOMS with these essentials

As you hit the weights and machines, it's easy to overdo it, so here's what you need to relieve sore muscles

Louise Whitbread
Thursday 24 September 2020 07:40 BST
While it's tempting to throw yourself back into exercise, increasing the intensity of your workout can cause severe muscle pain
While it's tempting to throw yourself back into exercise, increasing the intensity of your workout can cause severe muscle pain (iStock)

Gyms reopening had a big part to play in helping a small sense of normality return after months of lockdown restrictions.

As we return to fitness machines, the weights section or the pool after months of home workouts, it’s easy to get carried away and overdo it, which can lead to sore muscles in the 24-72 hours following, known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

According to the NHS, it can occur when you start a new exercise programme, change your exercise routine, or increase the duration or intensity of your regular workout.

Lucie Cowan, senior trainer at Third Space London, told The Independent that mild soreness after a workout is generally not a bad thing, and is somewhat to be expected after returning to the gym.

“Stress to muscles from exercise causes tiny microscopic tears in our muscle fibres, which serves a purpose: when those fibres rebuild, the muscle fibres thicken and the muscle becomes stronger,” she says.

According to Cowan, while it’s normal to experience DOMS, ignoring it can cause more harm than good and can lead to extreme soreness, burnout and future injuries.

To prevent it, the trainer recommends building up your activity gradually: “The good news is that your body does acclimatise to increased levels of activity, so DOMS should reduce in frequency and lessen over time, only resurfacing with changes in your programme.”

She explains that the ultimate goal of any training program is to find the optimal balance between work and recovery: “While you regain that long-awaited focus and motivation on your fitness goals after lockdown, make sure you allow time to ease yourself into each session with at least 10 minutes of mobility and allow time to fully recover to really ensure that what you’re doing is sustainable and beneficial.”

While DOMS should improve on its own after 72 hours, there are ways to speed up your recovery. We’ve compiled a guide to the products that will soothe sore muscles after your workouts.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Foam roller

While often divisive, Cowan is a firm believer in foam rolling, both before and after training.

“Foam rolling for 10 minutes after an intense workout is beneficial as it increases blood circulation to the muscles and connective tissues, which helps to increase oxygen and nutrient delivery to the areas of damage, to speed up the removal of waste such as lactate and deliver more nutrients to the damaged fibres,” she says.

In our guide to the best at-home massage tools, this Trigger Point grid foam roller (Wiggle, £39.99) was a firm favourite.

Soothe aches and pains with this at-home foam roller (Wiggle)

Our reviewer has long running ITB problems (tightness in a band of tissue, known as the iliotibial band, that runs from the glutes down to the outside of your lower leg), so has used more than her fair share of rollers and loved this one.

“Because it’s split into grids that have a tiny bit of give, it’s easier to bear than a solid roller – handy if it is your ITB that you plan to target,” our tester said, before adding, “This is not the tool to use if you’re looking for a relaxing, stress-relieving massage, but is essential if you’re running or cycling more, or if you’re recovering from any kind of injury.”

Get to grips with daily stretching routines to reduce DOMS with the Romwod app (Romwod)

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to foam rolling, Cowan recommends downloading the Romwod app, which provides daily stretching routines for all abilities, led by experienced coaches. Download it for iOS here, and for Android here.

Percussive massagers

These types of massagers offer percussive therapy, which means it uses vibrations in rapid bursts of pressure on the muscles.

To aid your recovery, Cowan recommends using a handheld deep massage, such as this Theragun Prime (Theragun, £275). “It’s often really helpful amongst many of my clients who experience DOMS regularly," she says.

Soothe sore muscles with this hand-held massage gun (Theragun)

The surprisingly quiet tool relieves aches and pains by delivering an intensive deep massage, with four different heads that can be synced up to Apple Health, Google Fit and Samsung Health to customise your experience, depending on your workouts.

Gels and balms

Sometimes all you need is to go back to basics with a therapeutic ointment to soothe sore muscles.

We love this China gel, (Yoga Matters, £17.95). It's made with punchy menthol, which we found to be cooling and tingly from the moment you put it on.

This topical, tingly gel will soothe sore muscles (Yoga Matters)

Our testers described it as non-greasy, which makes it ideal for using with an acupressure mat; we also loved rubbing it into knotted shoulders after a long day at the laptop for an immediate lift.

For a pampering treat, try this Mio Skincare liquid yoga bath soak, (Amazon, £33.33). It's a soothing blend of Epsom salts, essential oils and herbs including sage and basil, citrus lemon peel oil and lavender.

For a pampering treat that will make a difference to tired limbs, try this bath soak (The Independent)

We found it to be magically calming when used in an evening bath. Just don’t be put off with the swampy green colour, as this will disappear in the water.

Our reviewer described it as feeling like they "had done a yoga class followed by a massage.”

Go for a dip

If you’re experiencing DOMS on a day you still want to get a workout in, Cowan advises keeping it low impact.

“Try a session in the pool so muscles can benefit from some water compression to reduce inflammation. The weightlessness we experience in the water will help to take the pressure off your muscles and joints whilst still allowing you to work on your cardio fitness," she says.

In our guide to getting kitted out for your next trip to an indoor pool now that they have reopened, we loved this Casa Raki Maggie Maillot one-piece (Casa Raki, £180) which came highly rated in our guide to sustainable swimwear.

This sustainable swimsuit is stylish and eco-friendly (Casa Raki)

The London-based brand applies an environmentally conscious approach to every part of the manufacturing process, from the packaging down to the clothing tags, with the aim of minimising waste.

Our reviewer tried the one-piece style and said it was “very flattering, comfortable and soft.”

For men, try these Lululemon channel cross swim shorts, (Lululemon, £44). Made from water-repellent fabric, they available in bright orange or burgundy red.

These brightly coloured shorts will be easy to find in your gym bag (Lululemon)

They also come with a discreet back pocket, ideal for storing a locker key or earplugs when you're not using them.

Other essentials include a pair of goggles, particularly if you’re sharing a lane with others, which will not only protect your eyes from chlorine but keep other swimmers visible at all times and help you anticipate tumble turns off the side of the pool too.

In our review of the best adult swimming goggles, we loved the Speedo futura biofuse flexiseal pair (Amazon, £14.17), for their comfort and ease of wear. They left no marks left on our tester's face, even after a long pool session.

These goggles didn't leave marks on our face and didn't fog up in the pool either (The Independent)

They are easy to adjust with a button system and didn’t fog up while we were doing lengths.

If you're looking to stay streamlined in the pool, invest in a swimming cap which will also protect your hair from chlorine.

Typically caps come in one-size, as they are made from stretchy silicone, but if you have long hair with lots of volume, look for an extra large-cap to ensure it stays securely on your head.

For dreadlocks, extensions and afro hair, try this Soul Cap extra-large swimming cap (Amazon, £16.99), which gained a spot in our round-up of the best swimming caps.

Keep afro hair tucked neatly away with this swim cap (Amazon)

Designed with extra fabric to avoid it slipping off when you push off the wall, our tester found it did a really good job, holding in place well even with diving, faster swimming and strong pushing off from the side.

Streamline your swim with this cap (Speedo)

We also loved this Speedo plain moulded silicone cap (The GAA Store, £5), as it was easy to get on and off, stayed in place even during fast swimming and didn’t snag hair or lose its shape with repeated use.

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