I think we have all been at a point where we complete a great workout and feel amazing just to wake up the next day stiff, aching and sore, not knowing what happened. Just for the soreness to get worse as the next 24-48 hours goes on. This might even be hindering your daily activities or even your workouts. I want to discuss muscle soreness called "Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness" or "DOMS" what causes it. We'll also discuss what do to before your workout to help prevent the severity of DOMS and what to do after your workout to lessen the effects of DOMS.
Muscle soreness is a side effect of the stress put on muscles when you exercise. It is commonly called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and it is completely normal. DOMS usually begins within 6-8 hours after a new activity or a change in activity, and can last up to 24-48 hours after the exercise. You have likely experienced this before, after a tough or new workout and then before you know it a day or two later, you're incredibly sore and your muscles feel like they are on fire.
What causes DOMS? High-intensity exercise can cause tiny, microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. Your body responds to this damage by increasing inflammation, which may lead to a delayed onset of soreness in the muscles. This could be because of new exercises or because you are doing exercises that are more difficult or heavier than you are normally doing. Any type of exercise that causes your muscles to 'lengthen' and work harder than normal can cause DOMS.
Some of the common types include: strength training – for example when you lower on a bicep curl your muscles will lengthen. walking, jogging or running – your thigh muscles lengthen on the downhill in particular all can cause your muscles to be sore and in turn a few days later develop DOMS.
Symptoms of DOMS to watch out for may include:
- muscles that feel tender to the touch
- reduced range of motion due to pain and stiffness when moving swelling in the affected muscles
- muscle fatigue
- short-term loss of muscle strength
There are several ways you can minimize the changes and effects of DOMS before any workout to prevent the extreme soreness as well as reduce the DOMS hindering your lifestyle or your next workouts.
To begin, you always want to schedule enough time for a proper warm up. Taking 10-15 minutes to properly stretch and warm up the muscles you are working will help to prep your muscles for your workout that is about to happen. You also want to make sure you are drinking enough water during your workout as ramping up your workouts slowly. Not just jumping in and asking your body and muscles to perform a difficult workout right off the bat!
Next, you want to make sure you have a proper cool down session after your workout is complete. Finishing your training session with a light 10-minute walk or some dynamic stretching will also help lower the changes of DOMS as well as the effects they may have over the following 24-48 hours after your workout.
Keeping in mind many of the above activities will absolutely help reduce the side effects of DOMS and hopefully lessen the timeframe that the soreness sticks around. But, in addition to these activities to perform before your workout, there are also some things you can do after your workout to help ease some of the pain of the soreness.
General Prevention Tips:
Make sure you hydrate! A lack of electrolytes contributes to muscle soreness so you need to make sure you are staying hydrated throughout your workout. Your muscles are working harder and so they demand more oxygen and therefore need more blood pumping around – around 82% of your blood volume actually consists of water, so hydration is much more important and effective than simply quenching your thirst!
Second, you want to increase circulation. One of the reasons that you experience muscle soreness is because your training has caused small muscle tears, which then repair to make them stronger. You can shorten the duration of DOMS caused by these small tears by increasing blood circulation. Better blood circulation means more oxygen-rich and nutrient-rich blood will be going to the injured muscles, while increased blood flow also helps to wash away the chemical irritants responsible for pain.
Another huge part of preventing and reducing DOMS is making sure you are getting enough sleep. Sleep is a really powerful tool for preventing DOMS and for muscle building, and is also key for a wellness lifestyle. Muscle-building chemicals such as Human Growth Hormone are naturally produced by your body in the deep stages of sleep. Aim for a minimum of 7 hours sleep to really help your body to recover from exercising. If you find it difficult to reach the state of deep sleep required for a good recovery, then try practicing deep and slow breathing, and also turn off any electronics an hour before going to bed. Sleep is a truly regenerative process where your body is able to restore, rebuild and adapt. Developing a good sleep routine won’t only help with DOMS but will also help in gaining muscle and losing fat long term.
Lastly, you can help to prevent DOMS by implementing active recovery. Probably the last thing you feel like doing when you experience DOMS is moving your sore muscles. However, active recovery where you perform gentle, restorative movements can be one of the most effective tools you can use to dramatically decrease the amount of muscle soreness you experience. After all, sedentary lifestyles cause more harm than good – so get moving!
At the end of the day, DOMS is a positive reaction and is an alert from the body to ease off the hard training until you feel comfortable again. Ignoring that message from your body can cause more harm than good. Regularly over-training yourself eventually leads to diminishing returns, plateau, and injury – so be sure to listen to your body and what it’s communicating to you in clear, easy-to-understand ways.
The ultimate goal of any training program is to find the optimal balance between work and recovery. So, while you stay focused and motivated on your fitness goals, make sure you keep your training safe and allow time to fully recover to really ensure you have the progress you desire! Until we chat again next week, remember if you fail to plan you will plan to fail. It's never too late to get started!