Whether you are training for a 100 miler or running a local 5k, at some point you have felt it. Getting out of bed 24-72 hours after a tough workout, your body starts revolting against you. You have the dreaded DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
Although it seemingly strikes without warning, it is most likely to occur when you preform an activity beyond what your body is accustomed to, or you use the same muscle group for an extended period of time. While the jury is still out regarding the exact cause, scientific research supports three causes behind those sore and achy body parts:
1. Lack of oxygen and build up of exercise-induced metabolic byproduct causes pain, which causes muscle spasms, which further reduces oxygen available to the muscle, which continues the cycle.
2. Microscopic tears in the muscle due to repetitive contractions leading to pain and inflammation.
3. Damage to connective tissues due to eccentric contractions in the muscle (where the muscle lengthens rather then shortens) Ex. running downhill.
While some breakdown of the muscle and connective tissue is important to make adaptive gains, it is important not to overdo it. Additionally, incorporating rest and periodization as part of a well-thought out and balanced Annual Training Plans (ATP) is designed to give the body specific breaks in high volume training .
In order to decrease muscle soreness and get back to training, you will need to incorporate activities that relax the body and muscles as well as increase blood flow and oxygen to the area. While the following activities will help speed up DOMS and aid in recovery, it is important they are not used in place of recovery weeks.
The sooner you begin any or all of the follow after strenuous exercise, the better.
1. Static stretching. This should be slow and gentle. Stretch each muscle used to the point where you begin to feel the stretch and hold until you feel the muscle release approximately 30 seconds, 3 to 4 times.
2. Light Exercise. Gentle, non-stressful exercise increases blood flow. Ex walking or an easy spin on the bike.
3. Massage. This is one of the most effective way to reduce DOMS as well as overall injury during a training/racing season. It is important if you do go to a massage therapist that they are knowledgeable in your sport and training schedule. An inexperienced therapist can sometimes due more harm then good to an athlete. The type and depth of a massage will change according to the athlete’s training cycle. I have clients that will sit down with me and go over their ATP to pre-schedule appointments based on there peak training weeks to make sure they keep their appointments. These are the ones that usually stay relatively injury free. Save yourself from yourself and plan ahead!
4. Ice Baths. Ice is a great anti-inflammatory agent and will greatly speed healing. It also increases circulation and decreases pain signals to the brain.
5. Swimming or pool walking. Water supports our muscles and makes them easier to use. This is a great alternative to light exercise if you are too sore.
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