You just dominated a high intensity workout. You increased your weight and ran farther than ever before and feel great. Nothing can stop you now – until you get out of bed the next morning. You roll out of bed like a baby deer taking its first step: stiff and awkward. What is this new awful pain you’re experiencing in your muscles? Delayed onset muscle soreness. Or better known as “DOMS” in the fitness world.
DOMS is muscle soreness that typically occurs from 12-24 hours post-workout and can reach its all-time painful high at 24-72 hours following a workout. Of course, every body responds with DOMS at a different rate so these numbers could vary from person to person. DOMS is most often thought to occur from lactic acid build-up in the muscle; however, this is a myth. DOMS is actually a result of the microtrauma in the muscles and surrounding connective tissues that occur during a workout (particularly a new workout). DOMS is a side effect from the body’s repair process to this muscle damage.
DOMS likes to show up predominantly after activities that involve a lot of eccentric muscle contractions (lengthening of the muscle). For instance, walking down hills/stairs or weight lifting can have frequent eccentric muscle contractions. This is because eccentric muscle contractions places a higher load on your muscles versus its antagonist: concentric contractions.
So how can you avoid DOMS? Ultimately, DOMS does not discriminate. Even the most highly trained individual can experience DOMS. DOMS is hard to avoid because it is your body’s natural response and there for a reason. However, there a few things you can do to help decrease DOMS. The most effective of those being to ease into a new work out and do it consistently. Performing a high intensity, once a month workout or being a “weekend warrior” is going to seriously increase your chance of DOMS. By progressing slowly into a new program you allow the muscle time to adapt to these new stresses placed on the body which will reduce (not eliminate) DOMS from occurring. Secondly, a proper warm-up and cool-down will prepare the muscles for exercise. A proper cool-down should include dynamic stretching.
But you already forgot to do cool-down and only had time this week to work out once so you decided to go all in. Bambi legs have already set in. So your question is how can you speed up the recovery process from DOMS? Sports massage has been proven to help DOMS. Other common symptom reducers are foam rolling, Epsom salt baths, ice packs, oral pain relief agents, increased protein intake (to increase protein synthesis) combined with good nutritional eating habits, and sleep. Although these treatments can be effective in reducing overall pain, underlying muscle damage and reduced function may continue.
If your symptoms remain severe and continue to persist longer than 4-5 days, you may want to consider seeking medical consultation as it is possible that you may have more than just DOMS.