Written by guest author Rawiya Bikhazi
Whether getting back to working out, starting a new routine, or pushing harder than usual, we have all experienced post-exercise soreness. What you experience is called DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness. It shows up 6 to 8 hours after exercising and peaks in at 48-hours and can affect anyone, regardless of fitness level. This type of delayed muscle stiffness is normal, lasts for a couple of days, and in studies have shown that it is actually a sign of your improving fitness.
So what Causes DOMS?
Exercise is a voluntary form of stress. When you are working out you're forcing your muscle fibers to work in ways they're not used to. This stress can cause microtrauma to your connective tissues, which ultimately leads to inflammation and pain. DOMS, not to be confused with the burning sensation experienced mid-workout which is induced by lactic acid quickly dissipating out of the muscles, is an inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the connective tissue elements that sensitize nociceptors and thereby heighten the sensations of pain. It’s also worth mentioning that while most exercise can induce some DOMS, exercise with a greater emphasis on the eccentric phase (the lengthening or stretching phase) plays the most significant role in the manifestation of DOMS.
OK, so soreness is basically my muscles adapting, but is DOMS an indicator that my muscle fibers are getting stronger?
Actually Yes. Developing and growing muscle is caused by the repeated breakdown and build-up of over time. DOMS is an indicator of exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD), which, in turn, is associated with the strengthening of muscle tissue and hypertrophy.
In other words that soreness you feel after a workout is a pretty good indicator that your muscle fibers are getting stronger and more efficient. Providing you're fueling yourself with adequate amounts of protein the next time you ask your muscles to do the same workout, they'll be better prepared for the stress.
Is there a way to limit or reduce the symptoms of DOMS?
There's no quick fix to make it simply go away. If you want to see steady improvements in the gym, you're going to have to resign yourself to the occasional discomfort of DOMS. Sorry.
But here are some tried and tested tips to reduce the effect of DOMS:
1. Compression Tights
Research found that marathoners who wore compression gear in the 24 hours after a race reported less soreness.
2. Submit To The Foam Roller
It is ridiculously low-tech, but a cylinder of foam can ease tightness and tension between your muscles and fascia (the connective tissue). Using your bodyweight, you roll major muscle groups (glutes, quads, upper back, calves) over the foam, applying pressure to tight areas and trigger points to smooth out knots and increase blood flow. Foam rolling can be painful, but it shouldn’t be unbearable – if it is, get yourself to the physio.
3. Try Topical Menthols
Balms like VICKS and VapoRub have a pronounced cooling sensation on the skin that reduces muscle pain. The menthol causes calcium ions to affect neurons that sense temperature, which in turn causes a cooling sensation and inhibits the brain/pain connection.
4. Pre-Condition Your Muscles
Ensuring that you warm up before exercising by lightly working the same muscles that you are going to train can go a long way to reducing DOMS. Bodyweight exercises or using light weights to do the moves you’re about to perform can be good for this.
5. Blow Hot And Cold In The Bath Or Shower
Blood flow transporting nutrients to the muscles and clear metabolites are an important aspect of reducing DOMS. Physiotherapists often advise switching between cold and hot while in the shower. This causes alternating vasodilatation and vasoconstriction of the blood vessels in the affected area.
6. Scoff Cherries
Eat a couple of handfuls of cherries after your workout to halt the onset of DOMS. Cherries are packed with anthocyanins, which help to increase the rate that oxygen travels to your ailing muscles. This will ensure less pain the day after your workout and a quicker recovery.
7. Coffee Can Do More Than Keep You Awake
While the benefits of caffeine on training and endurance are well documented, caffeine’s ability to reduce DOMS is not so well known – even though it’s one of the most effective ways to do it.
8. Lube Up With Joint Lubrication Therapy
Smeared on the soft tissue around aching joints, Joint Gels reduce pain and stiffness. Used morning and evening on already painful joints, or half an hour before exercise, the gel contains microscopic spheres which are absorbed through the skin to lubricate damaged joints. Research shows it’s as effective as a prescription painkiller and clears DOMS 12 hours faster.
9. Make Your Recovery Active
Active recovery is a great way to help to reduce the inflammation and pain that comes with DOMS. Aim to perform some low-impact aerobic exercise both immediately after an intense workout and in the days following
So should I exercise through DOMS?
Try it: you’ll find you can handle more volume than you think. While the muscle will mostly recover within 48 hours, soreness can linger for longer. After 48 hours your performance should be back up to, or beyond what it was – even if it still hurts a little. Don’t believe the nonsense about ‘not training on a sore muscle’. You can handle it.
So What is 'good pain’ and when is it too much?
Getting DOMS does not always translate into building more muscle and could cause more harm than good. A little post-workout soreness is a good thing, but a lot of soreness isn’t necessarily better, and in some cases, it’s straight-up bad. DOMS shouldn't leave you laid up in bed for a week. It shouldn't prevent you from heading back to the gym for another workout. And it certainly shouldn't send you to the hospital for rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition that can occur when muscle tissue has been damaged excessively. The best way to deal with post-workout soreness is to prevent excessive soreness from taking place. This means you should ease your way into new workouts, and go light when you alter your usual routine. Progress slowly and continue increasing your effort. You’ll notice you get less sore with more effort.
Written by guest author N.P.Burggraaff
For a complete list of exercises with animated illustrations showing you how to do the correct form, download the free “Start Living Right” mobile app which can be found in your smart phone store.
Do you want to have beautifully toned arms? Then grab some dumbbells and get off the couch!! In this article, I’ll show you some quick and easy exercises you can do at home. For most of these exercises, all you will need is a pair of dumbbells and a soft mat or floor-like carpet. The last exercise is a bonus, not for the faint hearted.
Do these exercises with one day of rest in between as it is important to for your muscles to recover. It is in this rest period the muscles will repair themselves and develop. Do 3 sets for each arm with 15 reps.
1. Biceps curl
Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand and your palm facing frontwards. Place your elbows on your sides and lift your arms upwards to your chest really squeezing your biceps. Hold this position for a few seconds before slowly lowering your arms to the starting position. This exercise targets your biceps which are the top muscles of your arm. Make sure to maintain a straight back and avoid swinging during the exercise.
2. Triceps kickbacks
Many women complain about “flabby” arms. This exercise targets just that! Get down on one knee on a mat or carpet and pick up a dumbbell. Place the arm holding the dumbbell on your side and form a 90 degree angle. Slowly lift the dumbbell backwards while keeping your elbow pressed against your chest. Form a straight line and hold for one second before lowering back and repeating. Repeat for both arms.
3. Overhead triceps extensions
For this exercise you can either stand or sit on a chair. Grab your dumbbells (or just one if it’s heavy enough) and hold above your head with your arms straightened. This is your starting position. Now slowly lower the dumbbells down behind your head (neck area) while bending your elbows. Hold a few seconds and slowly return back to starting position. With the right amount of weights, you’re guaranteed to feel this the next day!
4. Side fly extensions
This is another great exercise to target those upper arms. Stand feet hip width apart with a dumbbell in each hand. Let your arms hang down on your sides and slowly lift your arms up sideways while keeping your arms as straight as possible. Form an imaginary straight line and stay put for a few seconds before lowering back to starting position. Remember it’s not about how fast you perform the exercises, but how well you do them! Make sure you perform the exercises with a slow and controlled movement.
5. Front dumbbell raises
Stand feet hip width apart and grab a pair of dumbbells. Standing upright, hold the dumbbells in front of you and place them on the front of your thighs with your knees slightly bent. Keeping a straight back, lift the dumbbells upwards until you are at face level and your arms are parallel to the ground. Hold for one second before lowering and repeating.
You will need a chair or bench for this exercise. Place your feet on the ground and position your hands at the end of a chair/bench. Lower your body to the ground with a slow and controlled movement while bending your elbows. Lift yourself back to the starting position and repeat.
7. Bonus exercise!
For this exercise you will need a stick and a piece of rope measuring half a meter. Tie the stick to the middle of the rope. At the end of the rope, tie one of your dumbbells. Keep your arms straight the entire time and with two hands, you “roll up” the rope till the weight reaches the stick. Do this for 45 seconds and rest for 30 seconds. This one…you’ll REALLY feel.
For more advice on how to train at home, download the home exercise guide here.