Why do your muscles feel tight after a workout?
Written by: Liz
Published on: July 27, 2021

“No Pain, No Gain.”

According to research, three factors allow muscles to grow. Firstly, mechanical tension where we are lifting as heavy as possible. Secondly, metabolic stress is where our muscles are under constant tension, and we chase that “pump”. Lastly, the one we are focusing on in this blog, muscle damage which is microtrauma to the muscle belly which causes DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

There are anywhere from 650 to over 800 muscles in our bodies, so they will inevitably have the occasional problem. Muscle tightness is far from a serious issue in most cases, but it can be inconvenient. Although they’re usually not very painful, stiff muscles can be very limiting to our physical activities. So what exactly causes stiff muscles?

One of the reasons why we feel tight with our muscles is because of our workout.

According to the NHS, muscle soreness that shows up one or two days after exercising can affect anyone, regardless of your fitness level. (1) But don’t let this put you off your workout! This type of muscle stiffness or achiness is normal, does not last long and is a sign of your improving fitness.

When muscles are required to work harder than they’re used to or in a different way, it’s believed to cause microscopic damage to the muscle fibres, resulting in muscle soreness or stiffness.

DOMS is often mistakenly believed to be caused by a lactic acid build-up, but lactic acid is not involved in this process. Anyone can develop DOMS, even those who have been exercising for years, including elite athletes.

Image credits: https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/body/a49470/how-to-stop-feeling-so-sore-after-a-workout-doms/

Regular exercise provides somewhat of a protective effect against muscle fatigue and soreness. Here are more ways to recover fast with DOMS. (2)

  • Get adequate sleep – aim for around 8 hours of quality sleep
  • Stay hydrated
  • Compression garments/items can help
  • Ice baths
  • Proper stretching
  • Eat nutritious foods

Proper exercise, stretching and nutrition strategies can help prevent and correct what can be called muscle tightness. Good posture, choice of activities and stretches will prevent tightness due to decreased range of motion. Proper exercise intensity and pre, during and post-exercise hydration and nutrition can help prevent muscle cramps.

Appropriate exercise progression and static stretching exercises will help prevent DOMS and maintain range of motion, respectively.

(1) https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/pain-after-exercise/

(2) https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2019-09-07/muscle-soreness-and-exercise-recovery/11483346

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