What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (D.O.M.S), is it natural/needed, and how can I reduce it?
First and foremost lets explain what DOMS is:
DOMS is simply exercise related muscle pain which is developed after excessive exercise and even more so after unaccustomed exercise. Hurts to walk? Hurts to wash your hair? Hurts to get out of bed? This is simply the effect of DOMS, which usually reaches its peak at around the 48 hour mark, however depending on the individual it can certainly vary.
Those who partake in fitness normally associate DOMS with the lower tier of the body, however, as you’ll realise after an effective chest session, you’ll struggle to wash your hair!
So, what causes DOMS? Well, the majority of individuals that’re avid gym goers if asked this question would reply with the build of up lactic acid in the muscles, however, that’s not the reason at all. In fact, lactic acid is a recyclable byproduct of exercise.
DOMS are simply micro tears in muscle fibers & connective tissue and that’s it. Well, unless you want to delve in the chemical processes so on and so forth, but we won’t do that now. Micro trauma in connective tissue is the answer and can be elevated even further by focusing on the eccentric phase of exercises (lengthening & stretching phase).
Although it’s often misinterpreted that DOMS is the key sign to you improving, and that’s what you should aim for, its actually not a dead certainty that DOMS is a marker for improvement, however, it may help… a little. Hypertrophy is the art of body building, building that muscle tissue to be stronger, bigger and to some, aesthetically pleasing. So for the sake of proving that, let’s list the 3 key components to cause hypertrophy:
- Mechanical Tension
- Metabolic Stress
- Muscle Damage
Out of the 3 components above, the last has the strongest link to DOMS, muscle damage. Now, it’s one of the 3 components, which suggests that it’s an important factor to cause hypertrophy, there is no disputing that, but, hypertrophy can still effectively occur without it, due to the first two points, mechanical tension and metabolic stress. So is it really necessary? Coupled with the fact that muscle damage can also become counterproductive, in more ways than one. It can lead to injury through numerous pathways and it can reduce your capacity to perform in other workouts.
In conclusion, you do not need to experience DOMS to have an effective workout, and therefore should never use it as an indicator.
Now, how can we reduce the level of DOMS before they occur? As in, what can we do to avoid them altogether?
First and foremost, a no brainer that should always be applied to any training routine, progress slowly. By jumping in the deep end you’re only applying unnecessary stress to your body, and potentially cause an injury, putting you back to where you started again. Progressing slowly, not only gives your body the ability to acclimatize to the workout, the movements and the pace, but also allows you to progress safely, and therefore avoid injury and train better.
Avoiding eccentric based workouts are a great way to avoid DOMS, and for a beginner this is perfect. Eccentric contractions, also known as the negative phase are known to recruit a higher percentage of muscle fibers, and this is the phase when most of the time you’re lowering the bar, such as when the bar comes back down into front rack after a military press.
So if you were looking to implement this change, when looking at a workout, you’d tend to supplement certain exercises with others, avoid some altogether or change your lifting technique, for example:
- Instead of back squats, you could push a sled.
- When deadlifting, drop the bar when finished extending through the hips, as
opposed to putting it slowly back down.
- Run uphill instead of downhill.
And lastly, supplementation, by consuming more protein, or BCAA’s your body will be able to recover, build and perform better.
So, you’ve trained, and now you’re feeling the burn 24 hours + later, how can we reduce it?
First and foremost, foam rolling is a brilliant way of reducing the pain of DOMS, due to your muscles fibers becoming knotted while repairing themselves, foam rolling can be a great way to loosen up your muscle fibers and alleviate the discomfort of DOMS.
Pain relief balms, such as Tiger Balm can most certainly relieve pain, the menthol in the balm causes a chain of effects that senses temperature and inhibits your brains connection to that area. But that doesn’t mean the issues dealt with, just that it’s been masked.
So, a Unit-27 special, we love our ice baths and saunas, and yes, they most certainly do the job when attacking DOMS. Although, sitting in a bath of ice can suck.
When stepping into a sauna, your body undergoes something called vaso-dilation, basically the expansion of blood vessels, and then during the ice bath, vaso-constriction occurs, and his is the constriction of your blood vessels, thus in turn forcing the blood to move onto other parts of the body.
By performing both in succession of one another, you will flush the nutrients in the blood more effectively and quicker to your muscles, which ends up speeding up the recovery process.
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