So, You Got a Bad Case of DOMS
If you’re like most people who put time and energy into a challenging workout, you probably have a love-hate relationship with DOMS. Even if you don’t think you know what DOMS means, if you’ve ever logged an intense sweat session, you almost certainly do.
DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. In other words, you do heavy squats or a longer-than-normal run on Tuesday, wake up feeling just great on Wednesday, but can’t walk down stairs come Thursday. You thought you were in the clear, so why the delay in feeling the ramifications of Tuesday’s workout?
While DOMS can take effect sooner, it usually peaks around 48 hours post-workout.
While DOMS can take effect sooner, it usually peaks around 48 hours post-workout. It can affect any muscle group or area of the body that has been exposed to a new type of movement or activity, or a familiar exercise with increased intensity (weight, reps, etc).
What Causes DOMS?
Just a little bit of science before we get into prevention and recovery. The old and largely de-bunked theory that DOMS is caused by a build-up of lactic acid and metabolic waste has been replaced by newer research. We now know that it is actually thought to have more to do with tiny, micro-abrasions in the connective tissue which lead to inflammation and pain.
If you’re interested in getting way more in depth on the mechanisms that cause DOMS, check out this fascinating article in the Strength and Conditioning Journal.
To really simplify things: muscle damage contributes to hypertrophy (muscle growth), although you can still experience it without extreme soreness.
To really simplify things: muscle damage contributes to hypertrophy (muscle growth), although you can still experience it without extreme soreness. In fact, intense muscle soreness after a workout that lasts for days can actually be counterproductive, so going overboard should not be your goal.
Ways to Reduce DOMS
The good news is that there are some easy ways to reduce DOMS, and get you back to full workout capacity (and able to get out of bed).
Use the Foam Roller
The foam roller can be found at most gyms, or you can buy your own at any sporting goods store. It is an easy and highly effective form of self-myofascial release, which is basically a self-massage for trigger points and tight muscles. Using this both before and after workouts can make a world of difference in how sore you will be in a day or two.
Warming up really is that important, and you should be sure to dynamically warm up the specific muscles you’re going to use in your workout. For example, if you’ll be doing weighted squats, include bodyweight squats in your warm-up. Along these same lines, make sure your muscles are properly conditioned for the load you’re placing on them.
For example, increase reps and weight slowly over time instead of trying to lift heavy, all at once. Save static stretching (holding a stretch for 30 seconds or more) for post-exercise.
Workout More Often
This might sound counter-intuitive, but working out each muscle group at least three times per week will help you to experience less soreness because your muscles will be better conditioned. Also, after an intense workout, you can find relief by doing a light workout for the next couple of days, instead of just stopping completely.
Use a Body Salve
Last but certainly not least, invest in some high-quality products to aid in muscle recovery.
For example, a menthol topical has been shown to relieve pain more effectively than applying ice to sore muscles, and Menthol Body Salve from Therapy’s Soothing Rituals line is packed full of healing ingredients such as eucalyptus oil, clove, menthol, vitamin E and more to heal over-worked muscles. Or, run a bath using our Soothing Ritual’s Bath Soak, which also offers therapeutic healing agents such as green tea extract, peppermint, and jojoba seed oil. Follow that up with Relax Body Salve to hydrate and nourish your skin, and your DOMS just became much more manageable.
DOMS can be unavoidable at times, but by following some of these easy tricks for prevention and reducing pain, you can usually stop it from becoming unbearable. Be smart about your workouts and give your muscles the soothing nourishment they need for proper recovery.
Rachel Fiske is a Holistic Nutrition Consultant and graduated from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition in Berkeley, California. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Rachel focuses on issues of weight management, GI problems, hormonal imbalances, fatigue and more via a whole foods diet and lifestyle changes.