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Sore after a workout?

What it means, why it matters, and the 3 simple components of a complete recovery routine


You’ve just finished a workout, and you feel amazing.

Your muscles are pleasantly worn-out, and you’re in that special state of mental calm and clarity that only comes from a thorough bout of exercise.

Your body is flush with endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and endocannabinoids -- neurotransmitters that signal wellbeing, competence, and achievement.

You’re exhilarated, motivated, and can’t wait to do it all over again the next day.

And then it hits. DOMS, or delayed-onset muscle soreness-- that stiff, tight, throbbing or screaming ache that flares with every small movement you make.

Normal activities like walking, going up and down stairs, or even getting up from a seated position become uncomfortable, even excruciating.

To make matters worse, the pain doesn’t go away. In fact, it gets worse, spiking on the second or third day, and lingering on for another four or five days after that.

Interpreting DOMS

DOMS is actually a good sign. It hits when you’re doing one or more of the following:

  • Increasing the intensity of your fitness routine,
  • Changing your routine so that new muscle groups are being exercised in new ways,
  • Getting back into training after a break.

The exact cause of DOMS is still a mystery. But most scientists today think the main culprit is microtrauma-- microscopic (and completely normal!) tears that occur when a muscle experiences more force, load, or stress than it’s used to. A second likely cause of that achy, flu-ey DOMS feeling is metabolic stress, and the buildup of toxic metabolic byproducts like ammonia, which is released when protein is broken down to build and repair muscle tissue both during and after exercise. The nociceptors (pain receptors) in your muscles then detect the chemical indicators of injury (e.g. debris from damaged cells) and metabolic stress (e.g. high levels of metabolic substrates and waste). And they transmit that information to the brain in the form of DOMS pain.

So if DOMS is the inevitable byproduct of hard physical and metabolic work, then we should just grit our teeth and endure the discomfort, right?


Wrong. DOMS is not just an uncomfortable experience. In fact, without a proper strategy for handling it, DOMS can significantly undermine your attempts to build up a robust fitness habit and stay healthy and limber over time.

Psychological and Behavioural Effects

Behavioural science breaks the habit-building process down into three stages: cue, response, and reward.

To build a habit quickly, you make the cue obvious, make the response easy, and make the reward satisfying. Simple as that.

  • “Make it obvious”: keeping your workout equipment in plain sight, instead of hidden away in the back of a closet;
  • “Making it easy”: choosing a workout location that’s convenient to get to; and
  • “Making it satisfying”: ending the workout on a high note and implementing a post-workout reward.

The third stage, reward, is the linchpin of the habit cycle. Repeatedly ending your routine on a pleasurable, satisfying note is what trains the brain to subconsciously label the routine as rewarding, and thus as worth repeating in the future.

Unfortunately, the reward stage is also where DOMS comes in. The dreaded “muscle hangover” feeling muddies the natural post-workout high, so your brain associates exercise with pain and punishment instead of with wellbeing and reward-- making it that much harder for you to get to the next workout.

Physiological Effects

Even if you do escape the psychological effects, the physical reality of DOMS -- which can last up to 5-7 days -- means you simply won't be able to train as frequently or intensely while you’re affected by it.

Some people try to power through the pain, and push themselves to stick to their training regimen despite it. But medical and fitness professionals don’t recommend doing this. The reason? Compensation.

Severe DOMS can temporarily decrease a muscle’s force capacity (its maximum strength or “power output”) by up to 50%. It also temporarily decreases range of motion and shock attenuation (how well your body handles impact, such as the impact of your foot striking the ground as you jump or run). Finally, DOMS pain will also prompt you to instinctively avoid using the affected muscles.\

If you nonetheless insist on putting the same demands on an affected muscle, your body automatically compensates by recruiting surrounding muscles and joints to take some of the load-- which can in turn strain the “helping” muscles and joins, which are now doing a job they weren’t designed for, and are thus at increased risk for injury. For example, if you run while your glutes are still sore from your last run, your lower back extensors and hamstrings will both have to work much harder to compensate. You also end up with a much less effective workout, because the muscle groups that are meant to be working at full strength and full range simply aren’t.

What the Pros Do: The 3 Components of a Complete Recovery Routine

So if neither pushing through DOMS or letting yourself be sidelined by it are good options, what do you do instead?

Of course, the recovery routines of elite athletes vary widely-- from good old-fashioned heat packs and foam rolling, to on-call masseurs and $3000 icing and compression machines.

But there are very three basic things all gold-standard DOMS recovery programmes have in common:

  1. They promote circulation.
  2. They relieve pain.
  3. They release muscle tension.

Classic DOMS treatments like massages, light movement (also known as “active recovery”), and heat therapy (which improves blood flow by encouraging blood vessels to dilate) all promote circulation. This expedites recovery by speeding up the clearance of metabolic waste and cell debris, while also bringing more oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the affected areas.

DOMS treatments like cold therapy, massage, and mentholated balms and ointments also all relieve pain, though in different ways. This not only helps you feel better, but reduces the psychological and behavioural impact of the pain-- so you can move more normally and reduce your reliance on avoidance or compensation. In addition, because muscles instinctively brace (tense up and stiffen) against pain, untreated pain can compound DOMS by adding another layer of muscle tension to the mix-- a problem which timely pain relief can help you avoid

Muscle tension, tightness, stiffness or rigidity occurs when overtaxed muscles temporarily lose the ability to relax normally and get stuck in a state of contraction. It’s a classic symptom of DOMS, as well as of exercise-induced muscle fatigue more generally. Muscle fatigue affects the nerves’ ability to control muscle contractions, leading to “knots” or areas of high tension in the muscle, and increasing the risk of cramps and spasms. So DOMS treatments like heat therapy, foam rolling, and massage also work to release muscle tension and stiffness.

Traditional and Modern Treatment Options

So why don’t more people have comprehensive recovery routines?

One reason might be that traditional DOMS treatments tend to be either pricey (like traditional massage therapy), inconvenient (like preparing an ice bath, soaking in a hot tub, or lugging out cumbersome foam rollers at the end of every workout), fairly painful (like light movement), or only partly effective (like pain-relieving creams, which often only work at the surface level).

This might be why professional and recreational athletes alike have been turning to hand-held massage guns as a modern, convenient, and comprehensive option for treating DOMS.

With the push of a button, they bring immediate pain relief, jumpstart circulation in the affected area, and, after just a few minutes, deliver targeted and effective muscle tension release.

Comparison Chart

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A high-quality massage gun will work faster than a traditional manual massage, as it can deliver strong, quick, deep strikes to the affected area more consistently than a human therapist, without being limited by the therapist’s strength or stamina.

Like traditional massages, massage guns also feel great to use, and high-quality guns come equipped with up to five or six carefully selected speed settings, so you can calibrate the depth and intensity of the massage to your needs.

Massage guns are also much more cost-effective, mess-free, and can be enjoyed any time, anywhere-- even when DOMS has hit so hard that you can barely get up from your sofa.

Most importantly, they are also an obvious, easy, and deeply satisfying solution to DOMS.

Which means they’ll make it easy to cement the habit of properly navigating the crucial recovery phase of your fitness routine-- instead of half-neglecting it as most people do.

Massage Gun Options

Because massage guns are a relatively new technology, the market remains dominated by expensive brands selling at price points that are accessible only to pro athletes.

Cheaper, no-brand options are available on the internet, but they’re plagued by problems such as weak motors (leading to shallow, unsatisfying massages),  gratingly high noise levels due to low-quality components and shoddy engineering, poor vibration control (causing numbness in the hand holding the gun), low or unreliable battery life, frequent product deterioration and failure after a few months’ use, and no warranty or after-sales support for the investment.

In short, there wasn’t much of a choice for regular consumers. That’s why we created Hydragun.

As a direct-to-consumer brand, we cut out the middlemen, keep overheads low, and avoid million-dollar celebrity endorsements -- so we can pass the savings on to you. That’s how we can offer a massage gun with absolutely premium components and build quality, at up to $300 less than what our competitors offer.

Comparison Chart

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The Hydragun has received rave reviews from the likes of Forbes, Elle, GQ, and many more. It’s used by Olympians and world champions, and has a 97% five-star rating from thousands of satisfied customers from around the world.

B

13/06/2020

Bob Shepherd

Hydragun Leg Massage

"I decided to try a massage gun due to my calves, glutes, ITB, quads and general leg muscles needing weekly expensive massages to alleviate muscle strain and cramping as a resullt of a long term scuba diving accident. Confronted with the multiple bands available I brought a brand in the middle price range - it worked well however failed on week three. Amazon reimbursed me for the product and I returned it. I then decided to go for a top end until as it was great therapy with good results. I have had the Hydragun for three weeks now and it is sensational, quiet, and gives a great result - no more expensive messages. I only hope it keeps going as it gets a hard work out nearly every night."

E

15/05/2020

Elizabeth Brott

Most popular object in the house

"I brought this to manage chronic back pain as recommended by my chiropractor. Its reduced my use of analgesics, I also use it before and after runs. My boyfriend who is a serious athlete know uses it after swims and my kid uses it during stay at home long zoom meetings, Its the best purchase ever!!"

S

19/04/2020

Sammy H

Highest quality for a great price

"Absolutely love the Hydragun and use it most days to help with recovery and muscle soreness. I train jiu-jitsu, weights in the gym as well as regular use of the Hydragun. It’s very quiet, even on the highest settings and regular cardio and feel I recover better and am less sore with regular use of the Hydragun. It’s very quiet, even on the highest settings and provides a consistent deep massage. I am very impressed with the quality of materials used in the hydragun, the look and feel is the best on the market in my opinion. The length of time between battery charges is exceptional. Couldn’t be happier with my purchase."

J

11/04/2020

jamie norton

Hydragun releif

"Pretty happy with the gun, has helped ease some sore spots with in my back, although remedial massage therapy is crucial for my back this helps to fill the void well I want for my next app with some slight relief. It’s quiet, light and powerful"

We’re confident that you’ll love your Hydragun as much as they do. That’s why we’re extending our introductory offer of free shipping and free returns on every order.

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