5 strategies to avoid that post-exercise muscle soreness!

The soreness that affects us all!

At the beginning of our first Covid-19 lockdown, I became quite inactive and sedentary compared to my regular lifestyle. This eased a little as restrictions did, but then became particularly noticeable during the second lockdown –  it’s amazing how you can feel when you haven’t been as active as usual! I decided that I needed to get back to my usual activity levels and utilise my 1-hour of ‘out of the house’ exercise each day (thankfully it’s now 2-hours!) My sister joined me on this quest, although our reasons for being active are very different – I’m being active for general health reasons, whereas she is being active to improve her athleticism and lower her injury risk for Basketball related goals.  However, we both utilised outdoor running/walking and strength training in our small home gym.

After a week, we both started to feel the same soreness and fatigue. The soreness was particularly bad in our calves and glutes. In general, we felt stiff, we weren’t able to move around as freely and we felt more fatigue than normal. 

Why? Where did this soreness and fatigue come from? 

Poor load management, in other words we had done too much exercise too quickly compared to what our bodies we able to deal with. We all have the best intentions when it comes to exercise, but if we don’t manage our workload correctly, there can be consequences. These consequences can potentially undo much of the positive steps we have taken by being active. Managing our load is a crucial component to maximising the health benefits of exercise and increasing our chances of achieving our goals!

Today’s post looks at load management, starting our journey with why it is important before looking at how we can monitor our load and effective strategies we can all implement to effectively manage our work load and aid in recovery.

Why is Load Management important?

You may have heard of the term load management in the sports setting, particularly in the modern AFL. Basically, load management is a strategy used to try and avoid over- or under-training, and therefore reducing injury risk while maximising the positive outcomes.

When we exercise and train, our body goes through a regeneration process that results in our improved strength and fitness. Let’s break this idea down and try and keep this as simple as possible. When exercising at the right intensity, our muscles fibres get fatigued and as a result get ‘damaged’. Our body then aims to repair these fibres, undergoing the regeneration process. As part of this, the fibres are repaired and adapted to be larger in order to provide stronger contractions. This in hand improves our overall strength and fitness.

When we don’t manage our load correctly, we can either end up over-training or under-training. To figure this out, we use an ‘Acute to Chronic Workload Ratio (ACWR)” – here is an example graph that I put together to help demonstrate this concept (please note that the data used for this graph is made up, but helps explain all of this):

There is a lot going on in this graph, but here are the key points:

      • Green zone: our optimal training zone
      • Red zone: represents over-training
      • Blue lines: our daily exercise workload
      • White line: the ratio we use to compare how our daily workload compares to previous days (like an average)

To put it as simply as possible, we want the white line to stay within the green zone – this is where we are able to maximise our health and performance benefits without the side effects of over- or under-training.

If we move into the red, we are over-training. This can result in increased injury risk (or niggling injuries lasting for prolonged periods), fatigue, soreness (also known as DOMS) and stiffness, as well as reduced energy, motivation, performance and ability to make improvements. Other common side effects of over-training include changes to mood, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite and increased stress. This is where my sister and I were – we were experiencing the soreness, stiffness and fatigue associated with over-training. Thankfully, we picked up on it early and were able to start managing this better before we got injured!

The opposite to over-training in under-training, and this occurs if we train below the green zone. This means we aren’t really doing enough exercise to achieve the health or performance benefits that we are aiming for.

Hang on, what is DOMS?

Now that’s a great question loyal reader! It stands for Delayed Onset Muscles Soreness. Do you remember a time in which you had a big day of exercise or physical activity and you woke up the next day feeling sore? Maybe you spent a day at the zoo with your family and walked way more than normal, and then you got out of bed the next morning and had really sore legs? That’s DOMS! It’s the soreness we feel between 24 and 48 hours after a tough workout or busy day, and it is a sign that we have pushed things a little too far. Keep in mind, a little bit of soreness is okay, but it shouldn’t be so bad that it limits us during our daily activities!

An interesting fact about DOMS is that it is most likely to occur after physical activity that involves eccentric muscle contractions. This is a complicated concept, so let’s try to make it as simple as possible. An eccentric muscle contraction is when your muscles work to try and slow down a movement. This could include walking or running (especially down some stairs or a hill), landing after a jump, catching an object before it hits the ground, or catching yourself after tripping or falling. If you find that you complete these kinds of activities frequently throughout a day, I would recommend using one of the following strategies. This will help reduce the effect of any DOMS that you might experience in the following 48 hours.

Load Management Strategies

There are many ways to effectively manage your workload and to help reduce the side effects of over-training. But let’s focus on the some simpler ones that anyone can do!

Gradually Build Up

The most effective way of avoiding over-training – not doing too much. Sounds pretty simple right? If only it was that simple! This is specific to you, as what may seem like too much for you could be the right amount for someone else.

The best way to think about this is to look back at what you have done over the last week. Then, think about how you felt in the 48 hours following these activities. No issues? Perfect, make it a little bit harder or go for 5 – 10 minutes longer next time. If you felt a little bit of soreness, do exactly the same thing and allow your body to undergo the natural adaptations that lead to improvement. But, if you felt a lot of soreness, it would be a good idea to take a step back and either reduce the intensity or total amount that you are doing.

Speaking of which, a good way to measure intensity is by using the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE). We previously introduced this scale in our Look after your lungs with the help of exercise! post. It is a tool frequently used by exercise professionals to measure an individual’s effort, exertion, breathlessness and fatigue. It provides a measure of how hard it feels to complete a certain activity (the intensity). You can use physical sensations such as heart rate, sweating, breathlessness and muscle fatigue to estimate how hard they are working.

The original scale that is frequently used by many exercise professionals uses a 6-20 scale. However, the CR10 scale referred to as as a modified Borg scale is simpler to use (see the image below). Aiming for a 5 or 6 is a great place to start!

Warm Up and Cool Down

The warm-up and cool-down are two of the most important parts of any training session, and is quite often underestimated and undervalued.

The warm-up provides us with an opportunity to prepare our body for what is to come. It’s like you are cooking – you wouldn’t just put your food straight into the oven and expect it to cook, would you? You need to switch it on and allow it to warm-up first. It is the same for our muscles. We use the warm-up to activate them and allow them to warm-up, reducing our overall injury risk. An effective warm-up also helps us reduce any stiffness and soreness we experience during recovery, as well as improving our athletic performance during exercise.

The cool-down is just as important as the warm-up, as we need to allow our bodies to switch off after a session. Whether we go for a walk, do some stretching or some self-massage, we need to provide our muscles with an opportunity to remove the by-products from energy production, as well as reducing any tension that has built up. This helps reduce the impact of any potential over-training side effects and gives us a quicker turn around time before our bodies are ready to exercise again.

Self-Massage (Myofascial Release)

This is my personal favourite! Myofascial release is a form of self-massage that aims to relax and remove tension from your muscles. This can be done in multiple ways, including using a foam roller, spikey ball or your own thumb! Whether you use this as a part of your warm-up, cool-down or as a stand along exercise sessions, myofascial release can help you improve your flexibility and manage over-training side effects such as injury risk, soreness and stiffness. 

If you would like some more information on stretching and myofascial release, check out our previous post “Up, up and away. Alternatively, you can have a look at the images below which provide some examples of ways to use a foam roller or spikey ball on different muscles. Please keep in mind that technique is important here, so seek the guidance of an expert before trying these for yourself!


Surely you expected stretching to be on this list! Stretching acts in a similar way to foam rolling – it helps us remove tension from the muscles, improve overall flexibility and potentially reduce soreness and stiffness experienced from over-training. 

Unlike foam rolling, stretching is most effective as part of a cool-down or as a stand alone session. If you think back to our warm-ups, we are aiming to activate and switch on our muscles prior to exercise. Static stretching (which is when you get into a position and hold it for 20-30 seconds) has the opposite affect and can switch off your muscles, so to speak. This is great for a cool-down, but not ideal in a warm-up.

Dynamic stretching (stretching when continuing to move, like leg swings) is a good way to warm-up. However, make sure you seek the guidance of an expert before trying dynamic stretching, as good technique is very important!

Check out these images for some examples of how you can stretch the different parts of your body! I’d recommend trying out the hip flexor stretch – it can sometimes be tricky to initially get the stretch, but once you get it, it’s a fantastic stretch!

Light movements and exercise

The key word here is LIGHT. In general, moving is a great way to reduce the impact of over-training side effects. But for this to work it needs to be movements that involve large muscle groups and multiple joints completed at a light intensity.

Going for a light walk or bike ride is a great way to achieve this – these rhythmic movements use many large muscle groups and joints and can be completed at a light intensity. For me, I really enjoy going for a walk around the neighbourhood and using this as a form of recovery. Alternatively, you can also use various exercises for this purpose, like the ones in the images below. Again, just make sure it is at a light intensity – more specifically, aim for a 1 or 2 on the RPE scale above. You will be able to achieve the desired outcome by completing these exercises with no additional resistance, just your own body weight.

Need Some Help?

Instead of figuring all of this out for yourself, maybe it is just easier to get an expert to do it?  One of the specialties of an Exercise Physiologist is load management and, more importantly, implementing strategies to help avoid over-training and manage any side-effects caused by overtraining. If you would like some assistance with this or in achieving your health or performance goals, contact us to organise an appointment to see one of our Exercise Physiologists.

Check out some of our other posts!

Keep your eyes open for more posts coming in the near future – there will be a new post every Wednesday!

Here are some related posts that may interest you:

Keep your eyes open for more posts coming in the near future – there will be a new post every Wednesday! In particular, we are working on a brand new series “How I live strong and prosper”. In this series, we’ll be chatting with Simply Stronger clients and finding out what they do to live strong and prosper!

Please leave a comment below if you have any topic ideas that you would like us to discuss!

Follow us on Social Media!


Photos provided by Karl Shea and Kiki Vega via Unsplash.com

Williams, N 2017, ‘The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale’, Occupational Medicine, vol. 67, no. 5, pp. 404-405.

One Reply to “5 strategies to avoid that post-exercise muscle soreness!”

  1. This is a very informative blog post. I’ve been using some of these methods for a while but it’s nice to have an in depth explanation of how and why they’re so useful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *