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How to Deal with DOMS

Some of you actually love it, but many of you dread an attack from the dreaded DOMS. Love it or hate it, DOMS is the byproduct of strenuously exercising your muscles - after all you’re not made of iron (yet). Here are a few tips on getting ahead of DOMS.

DOMS explained

Tough love - that’s what DOMS is all about. It may be sore and hurting you, but DOMS is your mate and always lets you know that muscles are being upgraded and strengthened. There’s no gain without pain - when your muscles are sore it means you’ve got the builders in. In simple terms DOMS is delayed onset muscle soreness after a hard training session. It’s common and your bodies’ way of saying, “Hold on pal, I’m doing a bit of maintenance and rebuilding after what you just put me through, so give me some space and I’ll come back stronger!” For those needing something more scientific, DOMS results from microscopic tears within your muscle tissue - which is what you’re aiming for if you’re looking to build muscle. The soreness you feel is the body’s way of signaling that repair work is happening.

Timing a visit from DOMS

So timing is everything — or maybe you like to hobble around like a war hero at your own wedding. The point here is don’t put in a mammoth training session and invite DOMS to an important event the following day. Check your diary and work out when it’s best to go hard — make it easy for yourself and avoid struggling.

Pre-workout preparation

If you ever get the chance to thrash a car around a racetrack, you’ll see everything like fuel, tyres and much more has been checked before you get into it. This is to avoid bigger problems. This principle should be applied to your heavy workouts as this will help to lower the duration and painful effects of DOMS.

  • Hydration - drink lots of water and hydrate as dehydration is likely to intensify soreness.
  • Fuel - ensure your diet and meals are hitting the levels that your body requires — you need lots of energy before a workout and it’s important you feed your body with what it requires. Aim for around five smaller meals, rather than three bigger ones.
  • Protein - lots of protein is required before or after a workout and anabolic protein is perfect as it provides a massive boost of protein, which is released over a sustained period of time. If your body doesn’t have enough protein, then it will take longer to repair your muscles and they won’t be as big.
  • Active recovery - after the main training session, try factoring in a recovery routine designed to lower the impact of muscle soreness. Aim for two sets of partial mid range reps and don’t lock out. The objective is to flush blood through the muscles not to work them harder.

Increasing your training frequency

If you train occasionally or prefer long periods between hard sessions, then you’re more than likely to experience painful DOMS. Many people have seen positive results by increasing their training frequency to anything from 5-10 sessions a week. On average, muscle takes about 48 hours to recover, but the soreness can last a little longer. Try getting back to the gym when the performance returns and see how you get on with another session. Just don’t overdo it by pushing too hard if it’s too sore and painful.

Easing DOMS

Much can be done to avoid DOMS and ultimately it’s a positive sign if you have some soreness post workout, but sometimes the pain is a real hassle. Here are some tips to ease the pain.

  • Gentle stretching- muscles tighten up when they are recovering and increase the feeling of soreness. Work on the painful muscles with some slow and gentle stretching.
  • Massage - gentle massage to an affected area will reduce the tightness, which will in turn improve the blood flow and decrease the pain duration of DOMS.
  • Ice / hot bath - many people believe hot and cold treatment using ice packs and hot baths will ease the pain of DOMS. Yet ice prevents swelling and inflammation, which isn’t necessarily a good move. Animal studies* are revealing that swelling is an important part of the healing process as it allows for more proteins to be released in the damaged area. If there is no swelling then there is less room for useful proteins like IGF-1, which has insulin-like growth benefits.

Conquering DOMS

There isn’t really a way to conquer DOMS - but why would you want to anyway? It’s simply your own body letting you know that it needs a rest and that your workout was a good one. That’s what you wanted to hear - right?

*https://www.fasebj.org/doi/full/10.1096/fj.10-171579

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