This is what I heard from 90% of you this weeks.
This post is addressing muscle soreness. As “science proves the obvious” likes to do, we are going to rename “soreness” with another acronym: DOMS. DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. We have ALL experienced this. You wake up the morning after a hard session aching all over. The next day it just gets worse. It seems like a week before you get yourself right again. I’ll explain how and why this happens and wrap it up with what you can do about it.
Firstly I want to dispel a myth about DOMS. It is NOT caused by lactic acid buildup. Lactic acid is a by-product of anaerobic exercise. It is the ‘burn’ you feel when you are digging into your last run up the hill, or that last push up right before failure. Lactic acid builds up quickly and is flushed out almost as fast. The longest lactic acid levels will remain elevated is an hour.
Ok, so if our muscles aren’t getting sore from lactic acid build up why are they then? The simple answer is because when we exercise we ask our muscles to do more than they are currently capable of. The soreness is a result of overloading, which creates a stimulus to both get stronger and to learn to use your muscles more efficiently.
Muscles, because of their structure can only produce force by shortening. The important element of muscle structure to DOMS is the tiny protein hooks that cumulatively create a muscle contraction. During exercise sometimes these protein hooks are going to be trying to pull in one direction, but being overcome by a stronger force. In this case some of these proteins are going to be damaged, literally torn apart. These tears are different than what we normally consider a muscle strain or tear, which happens to muscle fibers. The tears which cause DOMS are appening to the proteins that make up the muscle fiber itself .
Most likely you will start to feel more soreness the next day or the day after, this is the delayed part of the equation. What’s happening is that these tiny tears are getting inflamed. Inflammation is a natural part of the healing process, its what brings repair materials to a damaged area and its what makes it tender and painful. Inflammation takes time to set in so you will find that it gets worse before it gets better. Days 2-3 are usually the most painful. Depending on how much your muscle is strained DOMS can last anywhere from 2-3 days to 14 days.
You already know when you are going to get sore. Days when you go heavy, because your muscles are going to struggle to create enough force to lift the weight. Days when we do big volumes of exercise, because you will accumulate many more of tiny muscle tears that create DOMS. When you are doing an exercise you haven’t done for a while, or ever, you can expect to be sore because your body won’t be adapted to that kind of stress. Certain movements create more muscle soreness, things like slowly lowering yourself from the rings, or controlling a deadlift all the way back down to the floor. The time you can definitely expect DOMS to come around is the day following your first workout after some time off.
To reduce the pain, you need to reduce the inflammation and speed recovery of the muscle. Your best bet is to eat well, and sleep a lot. Movement helps as well. If you do nothing because you are sore, your body can’t flush the inflammation out of your tissues, so it kinda just stays there. Foam rolling is going to speed your recovery process as well, and is very important to do to before you work out if you are already sore.
Why is it important to understand DOMS? This is how we get stronger.
recovering from an episode of DOMS, the muscle grows back stronger to better withstand the demands you have placed on it. It is important to remember that a sore muscle is a damaged muscle in the process of healing. When you are sore you are less able to produce force, which makes sense because some of the parts that make it work have been ripped to shreds. If you have DOMS and you ask your muscle for maximum output, you might only get 70%. Good news on DOMS, the first time is the worst. After that first really rough bout of DOMS you actually get better at recovery as well as stronger so you heal faster and hurt less. Bad news though, if you take a prolonged break from training, DOMS is waiting for you when you start up again. The most important thing to know about DOMS is that it is a regular part of exercising, and as an athlete it is a regular part of your life.