The first step of the day. Sliding out of bed and putting my foot on the ground. Do I feel okay, sore, or – holy crap I did some heavy squat cleans yesterday and my legs are jello? Next, I have to get down a flight of stairs to get my hands on my lifeblood a.k.a. coffee. Am I walking normally, one-step at a time, or sideways down the stairs? These are things that happen to me. And if you Olympic lift, back squat, deadlift, front squat, lunge, overhead squat, box jump, wall ball, or otherwise tax your legs – this may be you the day(s) after your workout.
What is “DOMS”?
DOMS is an acronym for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. As opposed to that 5-minute sprint of a workout that hurts a lot right away, but then less and less; DOMS kicks in later, and it kicks like a mule. Depending on what you did, how fit you are, your age, your genetics, and a host of other variables, it can develop just a few hours later, and can last for up to a four days!
Some people think DOMS is your body reminding you how bad-ass you are, and that walking around like a cowboy is just a prelude to some hard-earned gains (gainz?) But doctors know that it is caused by micro traumas to the muscle fibers; the scientific correlation between pain and gain is not so concrete. At best, DOMS is a nuisance when you have to train again the next day, or walk, or function as a human.
Avoidance and Prevention
So you would prefer not to spend the next four days walking on eggshells. There are a few things you can do before you exercise to minimize or avoid DOMS.
Ramping up the weights or volume of a particular exercise more slowly can help prevent DOMS. Of course participating in a randomized functional fitness program makes this hard. In fact, mixing things up and throwing varied weights, time domains, and exercises at your body is likely what keeps you interested and what delivers all that well-rounded fitness. But it is something to keep in mind.
A good warm up before vigorous exercise also helped lessen symptoms. So despite your busy schedule, plan to warm up beforehand. It drives me crazy when I see people sitting around waiting for a group class to start. If you are already at the gym, be productive! Get a sweat on, and do some of the planned range of motion ahead of time. Go to the mobilitywod.com and find a relevant stretch for your workout.
Wearing compression sleeves has been thought to help, as it can minimize some of the micro-muscle tears that cause DOMS. You may have noticed that the elite athletes seem to gear up with more technical clothing than the average desk athlete. It’s not just because they want to look cool.
Being properly hydrated and especially with electrolytes has been shown to help too.
So you overdid it and you’ve got the DOMS. Time for some science.
There is a great recent scientific study by Connolly, et al titled “Treatment and Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness” which gets into the nitty-gritty surrounding the scientific causes of DOMS, and also discusses some varied treatment options. It gets very technical, but there are some practical takeaways.
Interestingly, they discuss that Ibuprofen or other NSAID medicines that you would normally take for swelling and pain symptoms do not seem to provide much relief, or at best it has mixed results. So while it may work for you, it may not. That is a cruel twist.
More relief was found from moderate active recovery, self massage (foam rolling) and easy/passive stretching. Especially when done as a cool-down soon after the vigorous exercise. Even a few minutes is better than nothing.
Cryotherapy (icing, ice baths, chambers) and more compression gear afterwards also provided relief.
Continued fluids, movement and more passive stretching in the days ahead also helped.
A massage may be in order, although it may seem like more torture than relief at first. You usually walk away feeling better though.
And if nothing seems to work, don’t worry, time heals all wounds, or at least DOMS. If you have used up all of the tips above, know that every passing hour gets you closer to feeling less sore. Until the next time.
What You Can Do Right Now
- Targeted mobility and warm up
- Fluids and electrolytes
- Compression gear
- Proper Cool down and passive stretching
- Active recovery