And not only butt, but quads and hams are really hating me right now – the second day after I kinda pushed a little too hard on my squats. Anyways, someone on twitter posted that if you are not sore the day after your workout – you are doing it wrong, and it inspired me to write this little post on our beloved DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) which is basically a scientific name to a situation where you find it challenging to squat down on a toilet seat.
So what are these mysterious DOMS? – it is soreness in your muscles that usually appears 24-72 hours after your workout. The soreness is cased by micro-tears in our muscles. Even though “micro-tears” sounds scary, they are actually a good thing! When our muscles repair ourselves they become stronger – as simple as that.
Another interesting fact about DOMS, is that they are caused primarily by eccentric muscle contraction, less by isometric and even less by concentric. To give you an example, let us take holy grail of all bodybuilders – bicep curls. Concentric movement is when you are lifting up the dumbbell, isometric – when you are holding the dumbbell half way up at lets say 90 degrees, and eccentric is the lowering of the dumbbell. We are much stronger in eccentric movements that in concentric – you can check it yourself. You will be able to lower down a much heavier dumbbell that you are able to curl up, and that is why training on an eccentric contraction is a great way to increase your muscle strength. Another great example that runners can relate to is how your quads feel after a long downhill run or race! Yes, that lovely feeling of walking down the stairs with rubber legs like a paraplegic.
Usually DOMS occur when you are new to exercise or push harder than before, lift heavier weight or increase the intensity. This exactly what happened to me – I hiked up my weight and volume as I felt so great that day. Anyhow, once you get accustomed to a particular exercise or weight, post-workout soreness will be slowly subsiding.
What can you do to avoid or minimize DOMS?
Some say that good warm-up and stretching may be helpful, however it is not really proven and over-stretching before an intense exercise can even do more harm than good. So have a nice warm-up but don’t go crazy with stretching. Good cool-down and post workout stretching are definitely beneficial.
What does help to tackle DOMS better is good nutrition during and after the workout. Replenishing electrolytes, glycogen as well as consuming some good protein after the exercise will help you feel better after the workout..
Another great thing that always helps me is a foam roller. Its effing painful, but I absolutely love it with some weird masochistic love! If you don’t own one, you should rush and get one now!!! It is as good as sports massage but way cheaper and portable!
Active recovery after your workout – go for an easy walk or bike ride the next day, do some light stretches to make those muscles move and increase blood circulation.
Ice baths right after the session/ run may also help, as well as the well-known RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation).
Ok, enough with the nerdy stuff! Let us move on to the most important question that is: Should you be sore after every workout and how sore should you be?
First of all, if the reason why you are working out is general health and fitness, and not super-duper athletic performance, then probably pushing extra hard and not being able to walk for the next several ways is not the best way to go. I know a guy who was once telling me about his new PT and how super-sore he was after a session with this genius of personal training for the entire week after the session. So what did he do that entire week? Did he work out? – No. Is it good? – No. Effectiveness of one super-intense workout that leaves you unable to perform your activities of daily life and kicks you out of training for 5 days can not be compared with a less intense session that allows you to get back in the gym the day after. The moral of the story is – some soreness is okay, but if becomes a problem and lasts more that 2 days – you might need to look at toning it down a little bit. There is nothing cool in not being able to play a game of soccer with your kid because you are so sore and cannot move!
You obviously cannot avoid muscle soreness if you are a beginner just getting into an exercise routine and it will be your companion if you are trying to improve your performance, but it should not be a limiting factor in your daily life or put a stop to your workout routine for more than 2-3 days.
Come competition or race day – then it is time to push it as hard as you can and feel like a real bad-ass the next couple of days holding onto a rail when walking down the stairs!