Saturday, September 7, 2013

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and Your Training

If you've ever pushed your self working out (I'm hoping this is everyone reading this blog!) You've probably felt pain in your muscles afterward.

The soreness may take place right after your workout or several hours (12 to 48 hours) after your workout (thus the name Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS). You could feel soreness, even when you are not moving.

Why do muscles get sore? Muscle soreness usually always happens to:
  • People just beginning an exercise program
  • Exercise enthusiasts who overload excessively
  • People who work the same set of muscles in a new and different way
  • After a session focusing on negative, or eccentric contractions

Theories on the cause of DOMs

Lactic Acid Theory
At one time, lactic acid was believed to be involved in muscle soreness. This build-up of lactic acid was thought to be a toxic metabolic waste product that caused the perception of pain at a delayed stage. This theory has been largely rejected, as concentric contractions which also produce lactic acid have don't seem to cause DOMS at the same level as eccentric (muscle under tension while lengthening).  Also, lactic acid is actually long gone from the muscles before soreness occurs

Muscle micro-trauma theory

Soreness may be caused by several factors, including small tears in the muscle fibers or connective tissue (the ligaments that connect bones to other bones, and the tendons that connect muscles to bones.), muscle spasms, and perhaps over stretching. High intensity exercise tends to cause the most muscle soreness.

Enzymatic theory
Calcium from damaged(micro-trauma) muscle builds up in the tissue.  The normal enzymatic activity is inhibited and the calcium may activate proteases, enzymes which aid in the breakdown of damaged muscle tissue prior to rebuilding.  Coupled with the micro-tear theory may best explain the phenomenon.

Negatives Eccentrics
Any movement you aren't used to can lead to DOMS, but eccentric muscle contractions (movements that cause muscle to forcefully contract while it lengthens) seem to cause the most soreness.  This occurrence would seem to me to support the micro-trauma theory.

Eccentric contractions also can occur during aerobic activity, such as downhill running, in which the quadriceps muscle repeatedly lengthens against gravity to lower the center of mass and aid in shock absorption.  Downhill running is notorious for the DOMs it causes.

Muscle soreness is a natural response of your muscles when they experience work. In fact, in addition to the soreness, you may feel you have lost your muscle strength too. Muscle strength is diminished for at least one to three days after the damage has occurred.  This soreness is a natural part of the adaptation response.

Muscle swelling occurs almost immediately after exercise. Depending how hard you have trained, this swelling typically lasts few days. It is generally joined by muscle stiffness and decreased range of motion. Normally, you need about 48 to 72 hours for our muscles to recover after you train the muscles.

Tips For Reducing Muscle Soreness 

Exercise consistently
Adopt good training habits. Do not be a “weekend warrior”. A weekend warrior only does exercise on weekend. With a burst of enthusiasm, this person run, swim, cycle or dance. Too much for a typical body to sustain so many activities within a day. So, it is no surprise that muscle will sore after that. Instead of working out only 4 hours within a day, one should exercise at least 3 times a week and 1 hour each session will be sufficient.

Warm Up
Without warming up, cold muscles suddenly put under stress are more likely to sore. Warm up is even more important for people who want to exercise in early morning after long hours of sleep. Warming up will increase your heart rates and the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles before you begin to work them hard.
Furthermore, your joints secrete more synovial fluid and become less stiff.

Increase Intensity Gradually
If you are doing strength or endurance training, keep your intensity or duration increase to 10% or less each week. By doing so, you allow your body to recover properly and adapt slowly to improved performance levels.

Split Workouts
As mentioned, muscle takes about 48 to 72 hours to recover. If you have to lift every day, do not work the same muscle groups. I have been doing split workout since 4 years ago under the advice of a seasoned gym goer. For example, I train my chest and biceps on day one and if I want to work out again the next day, I will train my legs instead of doing bench press and biceps curl again. By doing that, my chest and bicep muscle will have enough time to recover. Though you will need few days to work out all the muscle groups, you allow your sore muscle to recover.

In a worse situation when you do not rest enough, your muscle force will be lower with each subsequent workout. In other words, you will grow progressively weaker. Overtraining will simply be destroying the new muscle tissue being formed to replace the damaged tissue. This is no way for you to get bigger and stronger.

Anti-Inflammatories will reduce the short term pain.  Be cautious though Anti-Inflammatories may limit the hormonal response needs to occur for adaptation. The jury is still put on this and I have seen conflicting studies some seemingly contradictory. I would recommend proceeding cautiously and limiting them to only when absolutely necessary for you to function.

Self Myofacial Release/Foam Rolling
Foam rolling seems to help with soreness, particularly the day after.  Please see our future article on self Myofacial Release where we will cover this in depth.
The Grid - Black

Move -Active Recovery
Find an active recovery movement that you enjoy and, just, move.  Walking, biking and swimming are great choices.  Go outside and play.  The key is not to overdo it.  Your not going for intensity here, just movement.

BCAA's(Branched Chain Amino Acids) before a workout and whey protein powder may help the body recover faster and limit the pain.

Even though no research has given solid conclusion that massage will heal sore muscles, but I feel good after a massage, especially after training hard in the gym.

When To Train Again? You will know you are ready to train again when:

We used to think that you needed to wait until muscle soreness is completely gone.  Now once the soreness has abated enough to regain range of motion would be a good time to get back to similar motions.  I have found from experience that exercising a slightly sore muscle helps eliminate the remaining soreness.

I think the key is to wait until range of motion has returned or will return while doing warmup work in that same motion.

Muscle strength will be better than it was during the previous workout.

Know your body, but, you do NOT need to wait two weeks before training again. A balance must be reached between waiting until the muscle has recovered and not waiting so long that you have become lazy.

If your soreness does not go away after 1 week or if it is acute sharp pain, you may want to consult a doctor. You may have gotten injured or something may have gone wrong.

Additional Resources

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness:
WebMD—Sore Muscles? Don’t Stop Exercising:
Science Daily—Sore Muscles After Exercising:

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