DOMS is the real deal when it comes to dreaded words in weight training (it is actually an acronym for delayed onset muscle soreness) that many gym goers have a love/hate relationship with. I love it is a not very gentle reminder that you really killed it in the gym, we all hate it of course because it hurts to sit, stand, lay down or even sometimes, breathe.
It is very important to understand that not all soreness is bad, think of it as your body letting you know it is currently in a state of repair and the end result is bigger, stronger muscles. To see change in your muscles, you have to disrupt their structure. Unfamiliar or high-intensity exercises cause small microscopic tears within the muscle fibers which then create a stimulus for muscle growth and repair. It is definitely part of the transformation process.
Many people actually find DOMS gratifying to a point, for others, it can be enough to keep them away from the gym and off a routine. This is not what I want for you.
You should expect some soreness when you begin any new program, especially for the first couple of weeks whilst your body adapts to the training intensity and volume. After that point, it will get better. Until then, make the most of a painful situation with these research-backed tips to help speed up recovery.
Before picking up any weights, give your body a chance to loosen up first. Even something simple like walking or cycling for 10 minutes before starting a workout can significantly reduce perceived soreness in the days following your workout.
Dynamic stretching is another great option to incorporate into your pre-workout routine. This type of stretching which requires you to move as you stretch helps activate muscle you will use during your workouts, whilst also improving range of motion, balance and coordination.
There are many great dynamic warm-up moves you can mix and match. A few favorites include:
A little quality time with a foam roller is also recommended and research has shown it can enhance the range of motion.
I would really recommend that you incorporate warm-up sets before each of your major lifts. Rather than jumping straight into your first working set, start with a few sets using lighter weights and gradually work through a full range of motion whilst also increasing blood flow and nutrient delivery to the working muscle groups.
Warm-ups also help prime your nervous system so that the appropriate muscle fibers are firing. Just be sure you aren’t taking warm-up sets to failure.
An example warm-up set for squats
Please note, you can always include warm-up sets before starting your first workout set.
I would not suggest static stretching though, research has shown that including static stretching where you hold a specific stretch for 10 – 30 seconds for the first part of your workout can actually decrease power output and have a negative impact on how much weight you can load up on the bar.
Post-workout stretching can be used as a light cool-down, it won’t help reduce any next-day soreness or discomfort but it can help to increase flexibility. Make sure you are holding each stretch for at least 30-60 seconds and hold each stretch at a point of mild discomfort.
This may sound counter intuitive but one of the best ways to resolve muscle soreness is to lightly train the muscles that are sore. Training whilst still sore from a previous workout can actually help decrease future soreness and allow the body to adapt at a faster rate, a phenomenon known as the ‘repeated-bout effect’.
Your body is built to recover from microtrauma, in this case, small tears within the muscle fiber and adapt so that the next time you perform the same workout, you’ll experience a lot less DOMS.
This may feel uncomfortable, so don’t be afraid to decrease the intensity or volume of your lifts. Just make sure you’re going through the full range of motion and keeping good form.
Supplements are not some magic pill that will make your soreness disappear but they can help minimize some pain and discomfort. As an example, you could also opt for extra protein pre- and post-workout, Whey and casein are both great options to have before and after training to help speed up recovery and repair. Branched-chain amino acids have also shown to help reduce muscle soreness following high-volume workouts.
For anyone new to the training game, supplementing with beta-hydroxy, beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) may have some benefit. HMB is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine and appears to work by preventing the breakdown of proteins in the muscle. As HMB helps reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and assists in the repair process, you can also expect some improvements in your strength and muscle mass when used in combination with a full resistance-training program.
You do need to take HMB consistently for 28 days as a thorough loading period to fill the muscle and get the most from the supplement.
Let’s not forget fish oil as well, studies have shown that supplementing with omega-3’s can help decrease pain and swelling whilst increasing the range of motion following intense exercise. They are also critical for building and maintaining muscle mass, ultimately leading to a better overall recovery.
Nothing above is complicated or expensive so give these suggestions a shot and incorporate them into your weight training but with the right expectations. Some DOMS is always going to be an inevitability so some of what I have mentioned will not work miracles but at the same time don’t feel like the ‘gym life’ involves limping around in agony all the time.
Feel free to comment your thoughts below. Make sure you have also got your diet sorted right when in the gym, take a look here at an excellent diet that sheds body fat and not muscle mass.
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