Andy Speer doing a renegade row in a push up position

Your Step-By-Step Guide to Dealing with Sore Muscles After A Workout

Don’t let aching muscles keep you from your next workout. Learn more about why it happens, how to prevent it, and Andy Speer’s favorite tools for getting back in the game.

By Andy SpeerJune 28, 2023


Peloton strength and Tread instructor Andy Speer breaks down exactly what’s happening when you feel sore muscles after a workout and what you can do to relieve muscle soreness.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a workout newbie or a certified gym pro—we’ve all been there. Whether you haven’t worked out in a while, just started a new training program, or simply felt like going super crazy hard on your leg day, we’ve all had that  “Ooof, going down the stairs today might be a problem” or “Guess I won’t be washing my hair today or reaching overhead…at all.” I’m actually a little sore right now from a 60-minute strength class I taught. It’s going to be okay. I’m going to tell you why sore muscles happen, how to relieve them, and how to prevent them in the first place. Strap in, baby. 

What Causes Sore Muscles After a Workout?

Quick caveat—I’m not a sports scientist, but I do read exercise scientists and listen to them, so I’ll give you an overview based on what I know as an educated trainer. 

For years, muscle soreness was thought to be caused by these little micro-tears in our muscles that happen when you lift weights. The muscles do get torn for sure, and it’s probably a part of the cause of muscle soreness, but the thinking now is that it’s a pretty minimal cause of the soreness. What sports scientists think now is that there’s an inflammatory response to that “injury” to the muscles, and fluids accumulate around and inside of the muscles, and the muscles have cells that react to the fluid and the pressure that it creates, resulting in that sore feeling.

Once you recognize that the cause of muscle soreness after a workout is inflammation, it lets us understand how we can take action to relieve the discomfort more so than if it were just purely based on injury to muscle fibers—because if that were the case you would just have to wait for them to not be torn anymore and not have that pain.

And by the way, if you’re wondering why muscle soreness sometimes comes on 24 to 36 hours after a workout, the technical term for this is DOMS—which stands for delayed-onset muscle soreness. It’s also caused by muscle damage and inflammation.

OK, So How Can I Relieve Sore Muscles After a Workout? 

I’ll start off by saying the best choice is always what combination works best for you, which you can find out with trial and error based on the resources you have available—taking into account how much time you have and whether you want to spend money on helpful tools. But here are some things you can do:

1. Gentle movement. By far my favorite soreness cure—it’s easy and free!—is low-intensity movement of the affected area. This can be low-intensity cardio; this can be a light weight or bodyweight type of movement; this can be going through some mobility sequences where you're taking your joints through a big range of motion. The idea is that all of this is pumping fluid into the area and then out of the area because again, what's causing the soreness is fluid accumulation and swelling thanks to inflammation. So in this way, you’re using the body's natural magic to heal itself. It's not only clearing out the swelling of the affected area; it's also starting to circulate more nutrient-rich blood and remove metabolic waste.

If you’re not sure where to start with your gentle movement, check out our Tread walks or outdoor walking classes, our bodyweight strength classes (filter for “beginner” for a lighter intensity), and especially our mobility collection.

2. Normatec Boots. These things are fantastic and probably one of my favorite tools for recovery, but they’re not cheap, so remember that you can always use gentle movement as your first line of defense. You may have seen me or other Peloton instructors sitting around in these boots on social. They’re big nylon boots that go from your feet all the way up to your hips, and they attach to an air compressor. The boot slowly fills up with air, moving down your legs kind of like a massage chair. It squeezes the top of your quad and then the middle and then your knee and then your calf, and it just basically helps all the fluid and metabolic debris that's built up get pushed out and start circulating more through your body.

3. Massage Guns. Next down the line in terms of effectiveness for recovery are massage guns. A lot of people like massage guns for moving fluid from one place to another in the body. I like using the one from Hyperice—I do these long, slow, sweeping strokes down my quad or my hamstrings, which kind of pushes the fluid around a little bit and gets things “unstuck” in there. All of the message guns on the market work the same way, so you don’t necessarily need to get the more expensive ones—there are lower-priced versions, too.

4. Foam Rolling. Foam rolling may not be as effective as massage guns, but it works on the same principle, and a lot of people swear by the relief it provides, not to mention they’re affordable and convenient. Plus, Peloton has a whole bunch of foam rolling classes on the Peloton App in the stretching section organized by body part, so you can target the area that you need to release.

5. Hot and cold water therapies, or both! Both hot and cold can work well to relieve soreness; it’s usually an individual preference. I think ice baths or cold plunges tend to relieve soreness a little bit better because when you're cold, the fluid goes from your extremities toward your heart to keep your internal body temperature up higher, and then when you get out, it kind of has that flushing-out feeling. So if you're trying to reduce inflammation, cold is generally a little bit better.

That said, if you wake up the day after a tough workout and you're very stiff, a hot bath or sauna feels great, especially if you contrast it with the cold to hot again, which increases blood flow from the extremities to the heart. So all of it can be very helpful in relieving soreness, but the question is what do you have access to and what can you tolerate? Can you put up with a cold tank or a cold shower for three or five minutes? Sometimes I'll do cold water, then hot water in the shower. In terms of effectiveness, it's not really going to turn the needle up too high, but it can't hurt and it'll get the blood flowing a little bit, so it's definitely an option.

Is Stretching Good for Sore Muscles?

Stretching is a critical component of most people's fitness routine, but I don’t think it has as much impact on relieving or preventing soreness as people may think, especially compared to the other tools mentioned above. 

That’s not to say it’s not important: Stretching directly after a workout is helpful because it takes the muscles out of that tense sympathetic state and lets them relax, which will allow a little more blood flow to come through and help things not be so tense and locked up. Also, we get tighter and stiffer as we start to age, so if we can maintain suppleness and length through our muscles and range through our joints, it's going to make everything we do feel a little bit easier, and the body will function a little bit better.

Definitely check out the stretching classes on the Peloton App—they’ll make you feel better in your body overall! 

I Don’t Want to Be Sore Ever Again. How Can I Prevent Post-Workout Muscle Soreness?

If you’re working out and challenging your body, there will be days you feel some muscle soreness, so throw out the idea that it will never happen. Even professional trainers (like me!) and athletes deal with sore muscles. But there are two key things you can do.

Use incremental progression.

The best way to prevent sore muscles after a workout—at least soreness in the crippling sense, where you can barely sit on the toilet—is to follow an intelligent program and progress incrementally. This means don’t go from running three miles a day and then go out and all of a sudden run 10 miles. You’re going to feel it. If you’ve been doing two sets of five squats three days a week, and then you decide to do ten sets of five , you’re really gonna feel it. Incremental progression will help you with your health and fitness goals, and prevent you from becoming excessively sore because when your body is asked to handle just a little bit more each time, it doesn't have that immense amount of muscle breakdown.

And we’ve all been there: Sometimes you get caught in like “Oh, come take this class with me” or “Let's do a 500-rep challenge.” And sometimes those are challenges you’d like to take. But just know going in that you need to manage the weight or do some bodyweight stuff later to mitigate that crippling soreness.

Any of Peloton’s strength programs (under Programs on the App) are great because they teach you to just progress bit by bit over a few weeks at a time. I have my Total Strength programs; Ben has his Stronger You program, and for total beginners there is Olivia and Matty’s Beginner Strength program. Then there are the splits. So much to choose from!

Try gentle movement—yes, again!

Start working on the soreness before it has a chance to set in. If you know you did a heavy workout that may make you sore, do some gentle movement soon after. So if you do a heavy squat session on Tuesday afternoon and then you move things around, even a little bit, Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, that will help prevent some of that fluid from accumulating in the area. You may not prevent it completely, but it will allow you to stay on your workout routine without having to “skip a day” because you can barely walk down the stairs.

So now you know what to do if you ever go ham on a workout or simply went a little bit harder than your body was used to handling at that point. Just because you’re sore doesn’t mean you can’t move—in fact, the opposite.


Level up your inbox.

Subscribe for a weekly dose of fitness, plus the latest promos, launches, and events.

By providing your email address, you agree to receive marketing communications from Peloton.

For more about how we use your information, see our Privacy Policy.