Post Gym Soreness

Firstly, I’d like to apologise for my lack of posting this week – a friend is visiting from out of the country until Tuesday night and I have been out and about all day with her doing the usual sightseeing, etc. and just haven’t been able to make the time for the blog. Poor effort I know, but I will be back to posting on Wednesday!

I thought I’d do a little post on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) – why it happens, how you can help reduce the soreness and what things actually don’t help.

DOMS is caused by microtrauma in the muscle from contracting the muscle during a weights workout. Microtrauma is good because this appears to be the leading theory* on how muscle hypertrophy occurs. However, the DOMS occuring after microtrauma is not good because it’s bloody sore!!

DOMS usually happens around 24-72 hours after a workout, and the level of soreness correlates to the type of contraction you perform, how heavy you lifted and how long you have been out of the gym for. Eccentric (lengthening) contraction is found to have the biggest effect on soreness, e.g. in a bicep curl, the arm going from bent at the elbow to straight is eccentric, whilst concentric (shortening) causes almost no soreness. Concentric would be bending the arm during a bicep curl. However, to get the most benefit from your weight training you need to have both concentric and eccentric exercises – DOMS is a small price to pay for great gains! Isometric (static) exercises have been found to cause some muscle soreness, for example if you do a plank, your muscles are contracting and tense but you have no visible movement. And if you do the plank, you will know that your abs will be aching the next day!

There is no prevention for DOMS, i.e. stretching doesn’t help prevent the soreness, it will happen regardless. In fact, overstretching will also produce soreness. However there is a way to ease the level of soreness by gradually increasing your weights – yes, you will still have some soreness, but it will be nothing compared to if you lifted twice the weight. DOMS is not the only problem associated with trying to lift too heavy – think overtraining, poor form and injury. You will  notice that the more often you train, the less sore you will be after a workout. This is due to repeated-bout effect, where the muscle adapts to prevent further trauma from occuring to the muscles from a particular exercise. So, once you’ve stopped experiencing DOMS with a certain weight on an exercise, you know it’s time to up the weights!

DOMS will go away by itself after a couple of days, if you aren’t too sore then you can just crack on. But for those times when you literally cannot move:

  • Try a tennis ball or foam roller on the muscle – it will be very uncomfortable, even slightly painful, but it will help somewhat.
  • Go for a massage – I wouldn’t recommend a Thai massage at this point, you will feel like you’ve been punched all over!
  • Visit a sauna/steam room, as the heat will help to increase blood flow to the muscles.
  • Some suggest an ice bath after your workout – my boyfriend’s rugby team do this after an intense training session, he says that it can really help, if you can handle it!
  • Compression leggings help – some brands include skins, under armour, physio room, subdual, 2XU.
  • Light exercise, which will also increase blood flow to the muscles and help recovery, such as bodyweight training on the areas you have worked out, or a light jog/brisk walk.

Treatment for DOMS should NOT include Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), as these have been found to hinder muscle repair and protein synthesis in muscles. I also find that they don’t really work – I took them once when really sore post-workout and they did nothing for my DOMS, which led me to research their effect. And what d’ya know – I shouldn’t have been taking them! If you must take NSAIDs, for something other than DOMS, make sure you do it post, not pre, workout – research has shown that this reduces the negative effect somewhat, but not completely.

The worst case of DOMS I ever experienced was last year when I first got back into training after not even seeing a gym for 18 months. I decided to do 30kg glute bridges – error! The next day, not only was I walking like I’d had an accident, but I couldn’t even sit down/stand up properly. We went out for a family meal and I was stuck on the toilet for 5 minutes because I literally couldn’t stand up and was too far away from the door to pull myself up!

What’s the worst post workout soreness you’ve encountered?! How did you relieve pain, if at all?

*There are more theories on muscle hypertrophy and how it occurs through weight training, but they were not relevant to my post – if you’d like more information, please refer to this article.

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  1. […] Post Gym Soreness […]

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