Muscle soreness or DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) as it's commonly referred to, is not necessarily a bad thing until it starts to negatively impact your day-to-day life, and your ability to train and perform. The good news however, is that it's completely manageable, and we've put together some strategies to help you do so...
What is DOMS?
DOMS is the stiffness and muscular pain you experience after you've put your muscles through a heavy workload. It tends to peak between 24 and 48 hours post-exercise and can be more pronounced if you haven't carried out intense exercise for some time, if you're carrying out new movements, or if you up the intensity of your exercise.
It's a very complex process that isn't yet fully understood but it's thought to be attributed (in part at least) to your body's inflammatory response to a breakdown in muscle tissue caused by intense exercise.
It's a natural process which indicates that your body is responding to the increased intensity or variety in your training program, but can prove troublesome if it is excessive and affecting your performance. After all, you're training to get to peak performance, so let's make sure you can perform.
How do I manage DOMS?
DOMS can't be avoided completely but there are certain things that can be done to minimize and manage it's negative effects which can be split into four categories:
1. Training / Recovery
4. Personal factors
Let's take a closer look at each one...
1. Training / Recovery
If you want to get fitter, faster, and stronger you need to train hard enough to exceed your muscle's capacity so that it can then adapt. If you're experiencing excessive muscle soreness however, here are some important things to consider about your training program:
- Does it have enough variation? If you don't vary your workouts, specific muscles or energy systems won't have sufficient time to recover leading to burnout and / or injury.
TIP / Ensure that you vary both the muscle groups and energy systems you're targeting, along with the training type and intensity.
- Is there a balance between training and recovery? Training stimulates change in your body but without adequate time for recovery, your body won't be able to adapt - meaning you won't reap the benefits of your hard work. Therefore the balance between training and recovery, and the efficiency of your recovery methods are critical to allow you to train as frequently and intensely as possible.
TIP / Ensure you allow adequate time in your program for rest and recovery. Make your recovery as efficient as possible by incorporating low-intensity active recovery on your rest days.
Nutrition is a critical part of the puzzle because you need to fuel the cell repair and growth that your training induces. Four important things to be aware of are:
- Am I getting enough calories? Your daily caloric intake must be high enough to support your activity levels and training goals. If not, you won't be able to recover sufficiently and you won't realise the benefits of your hard work. Speak to an expert to define a suitable calorie target for a person of your gender, age, activity level and goals.
- Am I eating at the right times? For your average person nutrient timing isn't critical, but it's good practice to eat a balanced meal 1-2 hours before you train, and again within two hours of training to fulfill your nutrition needs and aid recovery. If you are a high-performance athlete, you may need a more specific nutrition plan based on your sport and goals.
- Am I eating the right foods? Eat real, unprocessed food in order to get the nutrients you need and include herbs and spices which can help manage inflammation among other things.
- Am I drinking enough water? Stay hydrated before, during, and after training.
Getting enough high-quality sleep is a critical for recovery. If you're training hard and not getting between 7-9 hours sleep, you won't recover sufficiently and you'll be more likely to get sick among other negative side-effects.
Check out our post on optimizing sleep for some strategies you can implement to ensure you get the high-quality slumber your body needs to recover.
4. Personal factors
Some other factors that can affect muscle soreness that are worth considering to understand if they are relevant in your case:
- Medications - muscle soreness is a side-effect of many common medications. Anti-inflammatories while they may reduce pain in the short-term are not a solution because they can inhibit protein synthesis preventing muscle growth.
- Stress - pain perception can be impacted by stress so it's important that you manage your stress levels.
- Menstrual cycle - strength and energy are impacted during different stages of the menstrual cycle. Being aware of this and managing your training program around it can help you manage muscle soreness and recovery.
- Mood - pain perception can be affected by mental and emotional wellbeing.
DOMS is a somewhat necessary evil when it comes to getting fitter, faster, and stronger, but not to an extent where it should negatively impact your everyday life, or your mental and physical performance.
It can be and should be managed to allow you to push yourself to peak performance by optimizing your training program, nutrition, and sleep, and identifying other personal factors that may be impacting it.
Having an awareness of the symptoms and noting what has brought them on is the first step. Then adjusting your training program accordingly, and being consistent with your nutrition and sleep will help you get it under control.