5 active recovery tips for recovering from DOMS

Post-exercise ache can be enough to put you off moving altogether. But moving the day after intense exercise is important – here’s why.

Did you even squat if you wake up without feeling like your quads and glutes are on fire? Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is one of the key indicators that you’ve really pushed yourself during a workout, and although it’s a good sign, it can make the prospect of returning for more feel even less appealing than usual. 

We all know the value of resting post-workout in order to give our muscles a chance to grow, but what if you have back-to-back workouts planned? What if the only two days you have available to move fall on consecutive days? 

DOMS should feel like a mild (and often even slightly satisfying) ache in your muscles, but it shouldn’t leave you in agony (this may be a sign of injury). And in some cases, exercising when you’ve got DOMS can aactually alleviate some of the pain in the short-term. 

A 2013 study looked at the effects of light exercise with a resistance band on DOMS and found that it resulted in significant relief from symptoms – but only for a short while. The intensity of your DOMS also depends on how well-adapted the muscle is to deal with the stress it’s being subjected to. In a paper for the Strength And Conditioning Journal, researchers noted that high levels of soreness are a bad sign and indicate that someone has pushed too hard for the muscle to efficiently repair itself. 

So, what kind of exercise should you do if you do have DOMS?

Active recovery: low-intensity exercise for DOMS

Active recovery is where you opt for lower-intensity exercises to allow your body to recover from the strenuous, higher-intensity workouts you’ve been doing. This is often considered to be more beneficial to a rest day as it keeps your body moving and helps your muscles recover and rebuild from intense physical activity.

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Recovery days are incredibly important as they help to keep your muscles flexible, reduce lactic acid build-up, reduce soreness, increase blood flow and help to maintain your exercise routine as they give you a break from your usual training.

Cristina Chan, personal trainer and the face of F45 Recovery, tells Stylist: “After intense workouts, your body needs time to repair and rejuvenate. Therefore, it is essential to spend time properly recovering from your workouts, especially as you get older because it can take your body longer to recover. It is also hugely beneficial as it helps you to correct your form and technique and avoid any injury.” 

She says that there are less strenuous workouts you could do that work well during a recovery period. 

Here are some of those workouts:


This is a great way to get cardio in without feeling like you’re doing much exercise. This activity keeps your heart rate up but takes some of the impact stress off your body. It also builds endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness.

If you want to avoid any lactic acid build-up, which can lead to soreness, you should still be warming up and cooling down before a swim as you do with other exercises. Warming up should be done using dynamic stretches and static stretches should be done post-training. They stretch out the muscles and stop them from being tight. An effective cool down involves periods of easy swimming.

Upper/lower body workouts (working the opposite part of the body to the previous workout)

Give the squats a day off and focus on your upper body when your legs feel sore.  You can target the biceps and triceps with these compound and isolation moves.

Try 10 reps of dumbbell bent rows, bicep curls and tricep extension. Why not follow this biceps and triceps workout? 

YouTube pilates

You don’t need to book in a pilates session to have your abs shaking. You can try at-home workouts that achieve the same or similar effect. 

There are variations of pilates moves that you can do, whether you want stronger abs, work on your shoulders or on your back. 

Core workouts

Core workouts might not be as active as plyo-heavy cardio sessions or weight workouts, but they’re so important for the way we move. If you want to give your legs a rest but want to work on your abs then there’s plenty of sitting, lying down and standing core exercises you can do that will make you feel the burn. 

You could try these simple but effective ab exercises that can train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work in harmony.

Here’s an example of a reverse sit-up:

  1. Lie with your back flat against the ground and legs together
  2. Place your hands under the top of your glutes to protect your lower back
  3. Keeping the legs as straight as possible, raise them toward the ceiling
  4. Slowly lower your legs back down, but do not let the feet touch the floor (float the legs one-inch above the ground)
  5. Your bum should come off the ground when your legs are in the air, but your back should remain flat against the floor throughout the entire move

PT Tess Glynne-Jones demonstrates reverse sit-up.

Take a total rest day

Fitness expert Chan says those down days to recover from exercise are also super important. She recommends at least one day a week where you let your body rest. 

She adds: “Ultimately, it is important to listen to your body. If you feel injured, in pain, more tired than usual (mentally or physically), then you should take a day off from exercise and allow your body to completely rest.”

Why you shouldn’t try to avoid DOMS

DOMS is a sign that you’ve challenged your muscles, and if you want to get stronger, that can only be a good thing. While you shouldn’t actively try to avoid some muscle soreness, you can set your body up to deal with load better. 

“There are a number of things you can do to enhance your recovery,” says Chan. “For example, ensuring that you cool down after every workout as it helps to boost blood circulation which improves the speed of recovery. Your pre and post-workout nutrition will also play a huge part in your recovery, as you need to be feeding your muscles in order to rebuild and repair them. Staying hydrated is also extremely important, as well as making sure you are getting at least eight hours of sleep per night.”

Images: Getty

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