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Ditching the DOMS

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For fitness enthusiasts, one of the last things they want to experience after working out is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. This is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles after strenuous exercise. These feelings of discomfort can be felt within several hours of completion and can last up to several days. The most intense muscle soreness is often felt 24-72 hours after exercise.

When DOMS occurs, it can have a tremendous impact on a person’s ability to exercise. Some are forced to decrease their workout intensity or stop altogether until the feelings subside.

 Symptoms of DOMS

Delayed onset muscle soreness is a combination of pain, tenderness and stiffness in affected muscles. This pain is felt primarily when the muscle is being used, even when doing simple tasks such as standing up or reaching for objects. Exercises that cause the muscles to lengthen (eccentric exercises) are more likely to cause DOMS than isometric exercises (movements that shorten the muscles).

Examples of eccentric exercises are bench presses, dumbbell curls, pullups and leg presses. Popular isometric exercises include planks, yoga poses, lunges and sumo squats.

It should be noted that DOMS can occur even in isometric movements, especially if a person has not exercised for an extended period of time.  Muscles that aren’t accustomed to exercise often experience some level of DOMS, regardless of the type of exercise performed, such as jogging). In many cases, the more intense the exercise, the greater the soreness.

Treatment of DOMS

DOMS can range anywhere from mild stiffness to pain that feels like a muscle strain. Contrary to popular belief, there is no sure fire way to “cure” DOMS once it sets in. The key is to focus on prevention, and minimizing its effects before the muscle soreness begins.

However, there is one thing that may cause DOMS to be worse, and that is sleep deprivation. A recent study on rugby players found that sleep deprivation had a negative impact on recovery after a match. As a result, they were forced to adjust their training regimens the next day.1

Benefits of Preventing DOMS

Every athlete should strive to decrease the effects of DOMS. Two benefits of preventing DOMS include the following:

Sustain peak performance. By decreasing the effects of DOMS or eliminating them altogether, a person can continue exercising at peak levels. Muscle soreness can cause a person to skip workouts or lower their intensity as they recover.  If DOMS happens often, this “break” in training could delay an athlete reaching their fitness goals.

Improved technique and efficiency. In order to improve athletic efficiency, consistency is key. DOMS can hinder a person’s ability to perform certain exercises and movements fully, limiting their ability to fine tune their technique and efficiency.

Preventing DOMS

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent DOMS, there are things a person can do to help decrease the severity and duration of DOMS:

Drink plenty water. Water keeps the body hydrated, which can help with DOMS.

Eat a healthy diet. Nutrient dense foods are key for muscle growth as well as muscle repair. Providing the body with the proper fuel to perform at high levels is key in minimizing the effect of DOMS.

Warmup. Preparing the muscles for exercise can help decrease the risk of both DOMS and serious injury. Not all warmups are the same, so it’s critical a person perform movements that are complimentary to the exercises being performed. Here are a few examples:

Running: Focus on stretching the hips, leg extensors and hip extensors.

Weight training: Jogging for 3-5 minutes, jumping jacks, pushups and bodyweight squats are popular warmup movements for strength training.

Warmups will vary depending on the activity, but there are four key components of each type:

  • Loosen up. Stiff muscles are at a higher risk for soreness and injury.
  • Increase your heart rate. Light jogging or other forms of low intensity cardio increases the heart rate, which helps warm up the muscles.
  • Try dynamic stretching. This is a type of stretching where muscles are stretched, but the movement is not An example of dynamic stretching is touching your toes then reaching for the sky in one fluid, continuous motion.
  • Simulate the workout. Perform the movements of the workouts, albeit at a lower intensity. If swimming, swim at a slower pace and intensity. If weight training, perform the exercises with lighter weight (or no weight at all). Runners can walk or jog at a slower pace, etc.

Post Workout Tips

An important (but often overlooked) component of preventing DOMS is what a person does after a workout.

Cooldown. Once a workout is completed or near completion, perform light exercises that allow your body to return to its normal, relaxed state. For example, after a cardio workout, a walk or light jog is ideal for decreasing the heartrate. Light stretches can be used to relax muscles after weight training sessions as well.

Post workout meals. Eating nutrient dense foods such as lean protein and complex carbs after a workout will help replenish the body (especially the muscles). This might help lessen the severity of DOMS.

Hot and cold therapy. The use of both hot and cold therapy has shown to be effective for post workout recovery. It is also believed to help with the treatment of DOMS:

Epsom salts. Taking a 30 minute bath with Epsom salts after a workout can help reduce inflammation, which can help decrease the effects of DOMS.

Ice baths. Ice baths are used by professional athletes in many sports as a recovery aid. Cold water can help decrease fatigue and tension, while increasing vigor. It can also help to relieve discomfort and pain.

In addition to taking an ice bath, ice can be applied directly to specific muscle and joints via compression packs. For example, BodyICE Recovery has several compression products that are specifically designed for the shoulders, back, hips and knees.

Compression packs can be used for both hot and cold compression, making them an effective part of an athlete’s training regime. They can be used to help the body return to an optimal state by helping recover from sore and tired muscles.

DOMS is one aspect of exercise and fitness that most would like to avoid. While there is no guaranteed way to eliminate DOMS altogether, applying the tips here could help reduce their severity, duration or occurring altogether.

1The Effect Of Overnight Sleep Deprivation After Competitive Rugby League Matches On Postmatch Physiological And Perceptual Recovery. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23412713

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