Athletes know the real meaning of muscle soreness. The kind of soreness that has you rolling out of bed groaning, hobbling into the gym and contemplating standing all day rather than sitting down. This soreness is due to exercise induced micro-trauma of the muscle fibers and connective tissues; also known as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS for short.
So What Causes DOMS?
The latest studies point to one specific muscle action performed during exercise as the culprit for sore muscles, eccentric actions. There are three (3) phases of muscle action involved in complete exercise movements.
Concentric – the “up” phase of the muscle action where a muscle shortens when it generates tension. Think in terms of lifting or accelerating i.e. pressing dumbbells over head or jumping onto a box.
Isometric – the “hold” phase when the muscles generate tension but there is no change in length. Think in terms of engaging but not moving or pausing i.e holding a handstand or holding a ab curl.
Eccentric – the “down” phase of the muscle actions where there is tension in the muscle but it is actively lengthening at the same time. Think in terms of lowering or decelerating i.e. down movement of a squat or bicep curl.
Science shows that eccentric actions are structurally more stressful for muscle fibers than any other form of muscle action. This is due to the weak links in the microstructure of the muscle fibers being placed under tension and then stretched. This is a natural process that causes the tiny tears in the muscle fibers that are responsible for low level inflammation resulting in us feeling “muscle soreness”. The good news is that in the 24-48 hours post damage the muscle will have repaired itself, and in fact be stronger and denser than before. Hello bigger and more toned muscles!
How Can We Minimise the Soreness of DOMS?
The aches and pains of DOMS can not be completely avoided, but there are a few tricks to reducing or managing so we can get on with our lives and training without moving like we have been shot in the ass.
They say the best medicine is hair of the dog. Exercise will speed up the bodies natural processes of draining metabolic waste (lactic acid) by increasing blood circulation. This also helps the delivery of nutrients to damaged muscles to help speed up repairs of the damaged muscle fibers. To get blood circulating to specific muscle groups, focus on the movements performed that made you sore, repeat similar movements but at a lesser intensity. If everrrry where is sore try a light bike, row or swim session.
Get Enough Protein
Your muscles are made of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. To repair and maintain your musculature the body needs to replace the damaged fibers. Research shows that protein immediately before and after exercise, combined with a small amount of carbohydrates for optimal absorption and utilization, can help this process. Most active individuals need between 0.8g and 1.0g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. If you are eating a balanced diet that meets your caloric needs then you do not need to supplement with extra protein. Natural sources of protein should be included in every meal. Some great options are fish, lean meats, nuts, lentils and quinoa.
Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, is a natural mineral compound known for its ability to reduce inflammation and flush toxins from the body. Magnesium is a super nutrient that is responsible for regulating over 300 enzyme reactions. You can locate ninety-nine percent of magnesium in the body in the bones and muscles, making it vital for damaged muscle fiber repair (protein synthesis, neuromuscular contraction and nerve transmission). We also know that magnesium plays a role in the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which increases muscle endurance. If you ever needed an excuse for a long hot bath, this is it!
Inflammation is felt as soreness or pain as the body fights to shuttle nutrients into the damaged muscle fibers and repair them. Anti-Inflammatory foods can help support the repair process and might help to ease some of the soreness.
Turmeric is a know active anti-inflammatory spice that has been shown to reduce inflammation by actively blocking molecules that play a role in the inflammation process. You can either take it in supplement form, enjoy it in your food like curries, or as a coffee alternative turmeric latte.
Ginger is another powerful anti-inflammatory spice commonly used to help ease digestive issues and inflammatory diseases such as gastritis, esophagitis, and hepatitis. You can add it to stirfry’s, raw deserts, smoothies or make a cup of ginger tea.
Myofascial release been shown to alleviate muscle fatigue, soreness, DOMS, and even enhance performance. Massaging overworked muscles can prompt nutrient-rich blood flow, speeding the repair processes and help lessen the soreness and stiffness. Book a deep tissue massage or better yet get one from someone you like.
Another option is foam rolling. This is essentially an inexpensive, convenient way to give yourself a deep tissue massage. The best time to foam roll is after a workout when the muscles are warm, but you can use a foam roll anytime to help work out stiffness or reduce soreness.
Warming up before exercise is one of the under utilized prevention methods of DOMS and injury. WARNING - not all warm ups are equal! You should do dynamic warm-ups before exercise, based on movements that you will be performing during your session. For lower body training sessions try some dynamic movements like walking lunges, butt kicks and leg swings, and for upper body training sessions try body weight push ups, shoulder extensions and circle swings.