Most have suffered stiffness at some point in their life, but there are many myths about its origin and possible strategies to avoid them.

In this article you will learn why they occur and what measures to take to mitigate them, as well as the answer to the eternal question: Should I train with laces? Read on to get the answer.

What are shoelaces?

The scientific term for shoelaces is late-onset muscle pain or DMAT (DOMS in English: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), and refers to muscle pain after a physical activity of a certain intensity, especially if it includes movements that we are not used to.

They usually appear 16-24 hours after training, but reach their maximum splendor after about 48 hours, and can be extended up to about a week.

Why do they occur?

For decades it was thought that soreness was caused by lactate crystallization in the muscles, but it was a wrong theory. Although there are still unknowns about its causes, the main trigger will always be muscle damage.

Microtraumas in muscle fibers initiate inflammatory processes and produce accumulations of different metabolites (study, study, detail).

Muscle fibers after eccentric training (left) vs. fibers that have not been trained (right) Source:

On the other hand, the shoelaces also have a neuronal component (study). Exercise doesn’t just train the muscles, it also trains the nervous system, and this can be painful (by sensitizing nerve receptors). In fact soreness can be “contagious” to muscles not exercised but connected to the same segments of the spinal cord (study).

The eccentric phase seems to be the main responsible for the stiffnessThat is why going down stairs (or hills) produces more stiffness than going up them.

Note: The concept of eccentric contraction It seems contradictory, but it is not: muscles can be lengthened and contracted at the same time. For example, the eccentric phase of the squat is the descent, when glutes and quads eccentrically contract (contract while lengthening), to control the descent.

Are they necessary to progress?

Some enjoy the stiffness for assuming it is a reflection of a good workout (the weakness coming out of their body) but this is not necessarily true.

As we saw at the time, hypertrophy depends mainly on two factors: mechanical stress and metabolic stress.

Hypertrophy depends mainly on these two factors, but increasing one implies reducing the other

The muscle damage it could also play a role in hypertrophy, but far behind (study, detail). What’s more, shoelaces are a poor indicator of actual damage (study).

In summary, you can progress without suffering from soreness and the fact of suffering it does not reflect a more effective training. Therefore, if it is possible to avoid them, the better. Let’s see how.

Strategies to mitigate soreness

Unfortunately, there are no magic strategies, but we do have some ways to reduce its appearance, intensity or duration.

1. Physical activity

Light physical activity prior to training seems to help (study, study), hence the importance of heating. Beyond general warming, it is recommended activate the muscles that we are going to work, with similar movements but of less intensity.

If you are going to do a barbell workout, for example, you should start with several series of approaches (maybe three or four) increasing the load, before doing the work series of each exercise.

Phase I of the Free Bar program includes more warm-up sets before the work sets. One of the benefits is that it could mitigate soreness

However the cool-down posterior and classic stretches seem to have no effect (study, study, study, study). In fact, overstretching can increase pain (study).

The active recovery it is also an interesting strategy (study, study). Instead of lacing up on the couch the next day, keep moving with light activity. Improving blood flow can help eliminate metabolites associated with pain and carry nutrients that will participate in recovery. Movement also helps reduce the sensitivity of the nervous system (study).

2. Food / Supplements

Two of the best supplements in many other respects are also the most effective when it comes to fighting soreness: protein and caffeine.

Personally, I wouldn’t take anything else, although I’m summarizing the evidence for two amino acids that might help: citrulline and taurine.


Protein is essential in muscle regeneration, and appears to reduce pain and loss of function associated with soreness (study, study). Seems to be more beneficial after training (study), another benefit of the post-workout shake.

Protein after training (POST) is more effective in reducing loss of strength from soreness than protein before training (PRE) or 24 hours after


To the well-known benefits of caffeine, such as improving physical performance and helping to burn fat, we must add one more: reduce soreness.

In this study, athletes who consumed caffeine one hour before training they felt less muscle pain in general, especially from the second day, where the soreness was greater in the group that only took a placebo.

Source: Caffeine reduces soreness


Citrulline is a nonessential amino acid that helps raise nitric oxide levels (more effectively than arginine), and taken before training (in the form of citrulline malate) could help reduce fatigue and soreness (study) .

The watermelon juice it is rich in citrulline, and it also seems to have some effect (study).


Taurine is a conditionally essential amino acid. Under normal conditions the body can synthesize it, but certain diseases interfere with the process, making it necessary to ingest it in the diet (study, study).

It plays a vital role in cardiovascular health and also appears to aid in muscle recovery. Doses of 2-3 grams of taurine daily for several days reduce soreness (study, study, study).


3. Massages and myofascial release

Massages are a good tool in any athlete’s arsenal. Applied a few hours after training, they reduce soreness (study, study, study, study, study), but don’t expect miracles: the effect is small and short-lived.

Part of the improvement is likely psychological, but certainly massage has a physiological effect, improving blood flow in the area and reducing, for example, creatine kinase (study, study).

If you can’t afford a massage, use a foam roller, your personal masseuse.

The call myofascial release helps improve general mobility, and for example applied to the calves can increase ankle dorsiflexion without compromising performance (study).

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Today he plays a little roller, trying not to make a face of suffering :). It has been shown that the roller improves flexibility without causing loss of force, although the mechanisms are not clear. Despite its name (myofascial release) it is unlikely to produce relevant changes in the fascia, but it does seem to work by autogenous inhibition or inverse myotatic reflex: when there is excessive tension in muscles or tendons (captured by the Golgi organs) sends a relaxation signal to the muscle to protect it, increasing its flexibility. In any case, it hurts 😰😈. #foamrolling #flexibility

A post shared by Marcos Vázquez (@ fitness.revolucionario) on

In the case of shoelaces, using the roller after a squat session reduces pain, in addition to improving the vertical jump (study). Two benefits for the price of one.

Other studies indicate that it mitigates stiffness and the associated loss of performance (study, study).

4. Heat

The heat also seems to reduce soreness, either in the form of a sauna (study), baths or hot cloths (study, study),

Conversely, applying cold does not help (study, study). This fits with the general rule of thumb apply heat after training and leave the cold for other times (detail).

5. Anti-inflammatories

As we saw a long time ago, inflammation is part of the recovery process from an injury, and it is also a signal that regulates muscle gain (study).

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are therefore a double edged sword. Taken after training seem to reduce soreness (study), but its chronic use will probably interfere with physical improvements (study, study). Less pain, but also less progress and more risk.

Some anti-inflammatories seem to reduce soreness. Ibuprofen is not one of them

For example, these anti-inflammatories can interfere with kidney function, increasing the risk of hyponatremia (study). In addition, the improvement in reducing soreness appears to vary depending on the specific drug, and ibuprofen doesn’t seem to have an effect (study). In short, it is not worth it.

It is more interesting to experiment with natural anti-inflammatories, such as ginger and curcumin, and several studies show reduction of muscle pain with fewer side effects (study, study, study). Having said that, it is not advisable to abuse either, since when using these spices in extract form they can have the same side effects as a drug.

Should I train if I have soreness?

As a general rule, yes, but adjusting intensity.

In addition to causing pain, shoelaces can reduce range of motion and application of force (detail, study). They also modify movement patterns (study), being able to shift more load towards joints and thus increase the risk of injury (detail).

For these reasons you should train more carefully, but if you always wait for the pain to completely disappear your progress will be very slow, and you will only lengthen the torment.

The day after…

In a certain way, shoelaces are their own cure, since each new training produces less suffering (study, study).

But as always, use your head. If the pain is very intense, rest one more day, and dedicate the session to another muscle group.


Shoelaces are unavoidable in most cases, but you can take a few steps to mitigate them:

  1. Warm up before training and apply the foam roller last.
  2. Use the sauna after training or take a hot shower. You can also apply hot packs on the worked muscles.
  3. Take caffeine before training and protein after (20-30 grams).
  4. Keep up the activity the next day, walking more or doing a mobility session.
  5. Repeat the exercises that made you sore before the pain subsides, but without straining.
  6. If you are prone to very painful sores, supplement with taurine and citrulline, and try natural anti-inflammatories (ginger and curcumin).

And as a final recommendation, learn to enjoy suffering. Think that Today’s pain will be tomorrow’s strength.