In the days following a tough workout, it’s common to feel achy and stiff. Does this muscle soreness mean you worked hard, or is it a sign that you may have overdone it?
According to Tom Dodsworth, exercise specialist at Sharp Coronado Hospital, “After participating in any kind of strenuous activity — especially if it’s new to your body — it’s common to experience some muscle soreness. The gradual discomfort that occurs between 24 and 48 hours after activity is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).”
Experts say that following exercise, muscle fibers and soft tissues are pushed to their limits and, in essence, fail. This breakdown of tissue causes a response in the body to build stronger muscles, tendons and bones.
“DOMS, while unpleasant, is completely normal and manageable,” explains Dodsworth. “It occurs because of the increased intensity following exercise.”
“You shouldn’t shy away from DOMS, but you shouldn’t allow it to mean you’ve had a good workout either,” adds Dodsworth. “Experts explain that if muscle soreness follows every workout, you may be overtraining, which can be accompanied by illness and injury. However, if your workout sessions are simply ‘going through the motions’ or you don’t see results, consider changing up the routine, in which case you will likely experience DOMS.”
Dodsworth suggests three ways to help treat sore muscles after exercise.
Movement allows oxygen-rich, nutrient-dense blood to feed those ‘starved,’ otherwise-sore parts of your body. However, remember not to overdue the movement. For example, you may have performed a strenuous bench-press routine, and the following morning you may have soreness and tenderness in the chest, shoulders and arms. Dodsworth suggests performing one set of 10 to 15 repetitions of push-ups or bench press using a significantly reduced weight. This movement will stimulate blood flow to the same sore muscles, promoting a speedier recovery.
Muscles require rest, and recovery occurs during sleep. The fallacy is that gyms “grow muscles” when in reality gyms are responsible for breaking down muscles — beds and kitchens grow muscles. Additionally, sleep is the most undervalued aspect of health and wellness. You should aim for eight hours of sleep in a blacked-out environment; also try white noise like a fan, and lowering the temperature to stay on the cooler side.
The most challenging aspect in the DOMS recovery period is diet. We are what we eat — fast food and diets loaded with preservatives will not make a healthy body or a quick recovery from DOMS. There is a misconception that you can eat whatever you want because you have “worked it off.” Following intense exercise, our bodies require carbohydrates, protein and water. The combination of carbs and protein helps in muscle growth and DOMS recovery, say experts.
“Your exercise experience should be fun, safe and progressively challenging,” says Dodsworth. “DOMS should serve as a guide for your exercise program design and goals.”