Welcome to the season of the gym.
Many of you either have a gym membership that only gets used this time of year or you just signed up with a club. With so many people doing their annual dive into New Year’s fitness comes the dreaded four letters we all love to hate: DOMS.
DOMS is something that cannot be avoided and affects newbie gymgoers and veteran athletes that are accustomed to hitting the treadmills, weight machines and stationary bikes. DOMS is short for delayed onset muscle soreness and can become a real obstacle to people who are just starting out on an exercise regimen.
DOMS is mild to severe muscle pain, extreme tightness, and soreness that usually shows up within 24 hours after exercise and continues to intensify up to 48 hours later. Some people describe this painful feeling like somewhere between having body aches from the flu to extreme burning sensation within major muscle groups.
Needless to say, once the pain sets in making you feel like you have been hit by a bus, many people just stop exercising all together thinking it’s madness to continue. The good news is the pain is temporary and if you approach a new workout regimen adequately, you can minimize the effects of DOMS down to a minor inconvenience.
Twenty-plus years ago, fitness professionals assumed that a lactic acid build-up caused DOMS in the muscles. Research and a better understanding of exercise science have found that after exercise, lactic acid leaves the muscles within 60 minutes. The primary cause of DOMS is micro-trauma to your muscle fibers. To build and strengthen our muscles, we must tear them, break them apart and lengthen them. This purposeful abuse of our muscular system creates a fair amount of body trauma and can affect our joints, ligaments, and tendons as well.
Building lean, healthy muscle is key to so many wanted aspects of your health like increased metabolism, reduction of body fat, increased strength and better mobility. The stand-out benefits of strength training for your body is its ability to improve your overall physical appearance, performance, metabolic efficiency and reduce the risk of injury when being active. So it is no surprise that looking good, feeling great and building strength comes with the price of delayed onset muscle soreness.
So what steps can be taken to reduce the after effects of exercise-induced DOMS?
1. Start out slow. If you’re just starting back into a fitness routine, build the intensity of your workout over a six-week period. This will give you better results and avoid injury in the long term.
2. Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated has a significant impact on your overall recovery from the effects of exercise. One of the worst things that can accompany DOMS is cramping from dehydration. Pain added to pain can be really painful.
3. Allow more recovery time up front. This means if your plan is to workout five days a week, that’s great, but make sure you allow a few days in between as your body needs to heal.
4. Be sure to rotate muscle groups. Something like Monday: back and biceps; Wednesday: chest, triceps and core: and make Friday leg day. Just be sure to space out your overall muscle groups and this can be confusing to someone just starting out, so perhaps use a personal trainer to get this concept dialed in.
5. Warm up before your weight or resistance training with short cardio regimens. I do not recommend stair climbers too soon as you jumpstart your fitness. Stationary bike, a 20 minute jog on the treadmill or use an elliptical machine to loosen up your muscles, connective tissue and frame.
6. Be sure to get enough protein in your daily diet. The amino acids in protein are the building blocks to muscle development, toning and repair. When you are starting out, have a protein shake in the morning and one after a workout.
7. Take a cold shower. The idea that a hot shower feels excellent is true, but a cold shower will have a better impact on the symptoms of DOMS.
8. Myofascial release. Use a foam roller to help break apart your soft tissue adhesions which build up in your muscles.
9. Walking is one of the best ways to combat full body soreness from DOMS. Get up and get going with increase blood circulation, loosen tight muscles and help deliver oxygen into tissues, helping repair those micro-tears deep within your muscles.
10. If you must, use safe and healthy anti-inflammatories. This is another way to cut the soreness and promote healing. Use Turmeric in a post- workout protein shake. Turmeric is a curcumin which has anticoagulant and anti-inflammatory properties which can really help reduce discomfort and will not stress your stomach or other organs like ibuprofen or other OTC medications.
The term for building muscle mass is called hypertrophy which should not be confused with muscle conditioning. There are two specific approaches to the type of muscle you can develop. The first classification is building muscular endurance, which gives your muscles the ability to perform better over an extended period. The second grouping is one we are all familiar with and that is lifting or resistance training. Both types of exercises can create soreness and place equal stress on your body. No matter which goal you are shooting for - toning, endurance or a little of both - you will feel the effects of DOMS. Be smart and take your time getting into excellent condition and lessen the pain and suffering of DOMS.
Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.