Why should I practice running slow? I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast.
— Emil Zatopek
Kettlebell swings, Snatches, Wall-ball, Burpees… It happens to us all whenever we do any kind of intense exercise, the famous feeling that stops us from being able to do our WOD or even get out of bed without a bear-groan the next day. Yes, I know you know… It’s Soreness. “No pain, No Gain” -they say.
Post-workout Soreness or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS like the experts call it)
The great achievement indicator and progress deterrer. The boss of any movement you’ll try to perform for the next couple of days (more if you over-exceeded). The voice in the back of your mind and inside your thighs as you seriously decide to climb the stairs. Oh horrible and at the same time gratifying feeling.
Should we worry? Is it normal to have it even when we’ve already being constant to our gym or box for a while?
Believe me when I say, muscle soreness is yours for the keep. It doesn’t matter how advanced your practice is, if you pass the limit (which we always try to do at Crossfit), you’ll get her. Yes I call it a HER, but not because of the pain itself but because of its persistence and strength. Soreness is a natural response of your body and although it can be alarming for new exercisers, delayed onset muscle soreness is a normal response to unusual exertion and is part of an adaptation process that leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover and build hypertrophy).
But what can we do about it? What are the best strategies to cope with post-workout muscle soreness or DOMS?
Many different methods have been tried by great athletes but there’s little scientific evidence or research for many of them. Nevertheless, try some of them and you’ll find the right combination to cope with the sour-sweet Dame of Pain. The most famous methods are:
- Active Recovery (AR). This method relies on performing low-intensity and impact continuous exercise, manly aerobic. The increase in blood flow has a proven effect on reducing muscle soreness. This method is one of the few really scientifically proven to work. I believe that’s why Anne, my wife always recommends a gentle jog after workout.
- Massage. There is no actual evidence that massage is good for soreness, nevertheless many seem to rely on it. I believe it’s because of the increased blood flow and some people say it helps transport lactic acid.
- Aspirin. This one I used after every swimming competition. I cannot certainly tell you it worked, but my trainer at that time was very sure it did. I can tell you that it definitely thins blood flow. I guess the relief in this case is temporary, but can really help if you’re in too much pain. Careful with anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, they are not recommended after strong workouts and also if you’re aspirin-allergic.
- Body Cooling. This one I tried as a recommendation of my good friend Hein. He used to train tough for triathlons and he said the best you could do to your body after an extreme exercise was to cool it down, and the best way for that was entering a swimming pool where the temperature is clearly fresh (some athletes recommend Ice-cold). What happens there is that the heat transference is the greater because of the full contact with your body. It is 3 times faster than a cold shower and will let you cool down as you do a gentle swim. I’m not totally sure if this helped just because of the cool down, but you’ll certainly feel it. So if you have acces to a swimming pool, do it.
- Thermacare patches. I haven’t tried this ones, there are people that claim great relief because of the extended heating of the muscles. I am very uncomfortable with localized heat, so this is not an option for me.
- Yoga. Many people (my wife included) say that Yoga and gentle stretches work wonders for post-workout muscle soreness. I think I do also feel better when I do it after a high intensity WOD.
- Electro-stimulation. Another friend of mine Josep is very fund of this method and claims it really works. Research shows it doesn’t, but I know more like him that really believe in its benefits.
- Rest, Rest, Rest. Wait it out, soreness will surely go away in 3 to 7 days with no special treatment. If it doesn’t, I think it is really important that you consult a physician, for you may have some kind of muscle injury. Also, be aware that not resting exhausted/sore muscles could actually increase your pain.
The thing I do more is a combination of Active Recovery with Yoga (wife induced) or gentle stretches followed by a cold shower. That is because I don’t have a pool at the gym, if not believe me a little gentle-swimming would be my preferred alternative.
Warm Up completely before your next exercise session. There is some research that supports that a warm-up performed immediately prior to unaccustomed exercise produces small reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness.
** REALLY, take pain seriously. If your pain persists longer than 7 days or increases despite these measures, consult your physician.
[mrw.interscience.wiley.com/cochrane/clsysrev/articles/CD004577/frame.html]Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise, RD Herbert, M de Noronha, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4, 2007, The Cochrane Collaboration.
Herbert, R., Gabriel, M. [http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/abridged/325/7362/468?eaf]BMJ 2002;325:468-470. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review
Leeder, J., Spence, J., Taylor, E., Harrison, A., Howatson, G. [http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/45/15/A21.1.abstract] The effect of electrical stimulation on recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage
Szymanski, D. (2003). Recommendations for the avoidance of delayed-onset muscle soreness. Strength and Conditioning Journal 23(4): 7–13.