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This question of the week is a question to me, rather than a question to you. Let me know your thoughts on the subject after reading the article.
Let me tell you about a recent conversation with one of my friends over IM. This guy used to lift with me back in college, but he’s working on his own business right now and hasn’t touched a weight in almost a year. So they guy goes out and gets a gym membership and starts training again last Monday.
This is how the conversation went down…
weightlifting friend: yo wtf
friend: my muscles hurt
friend: so bad
friend: chest and tris are killing me
friend: since monday
friend: i can barely move
me: don’t push it so hard the first week back foo
friend: i cant help it
friend: and i didn’t push that hard
friend: i just did as much as i could
friend: which is not as much as it used to be
me: you prolly did negative reps
me: and pushed out every last rep out of every set
me: and tried to use the weights you used to use
friend: whatever i did
friend: it sucks ass
friend: what can i do to recover faster?
My friend here is suffering from a little something called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS.
What is DOMS?
DOMS is sore, stiff and painful feelings in muscles, which occur 24-48 hours following intense exercise. DOMS is almost always guaranteed to set in when an individual trains too hard during their first couple workouts after a long layoff. This discomfort is more prevalent following overloaded eccentric (the ‘negative’ portion of the rep) muscle activity, where the muscles are placed under a load that is typically too heavy to lift, or super-slow eccentric activity where the muscle fibers are forced to flex and contract at the same time.
A typical example is when the load becomes too heavy on a bench press, the spotter lifts the weight for the trainee, and lowers it slowly under control. This just tears up and really damages muscle fibers.
The following are thought to be responsible for DOMS:
- Small tears in the muscle or connective tissues between the fibers, usually from excessive intensity or eccentric training.
- Overly aggressive exercise by an untrained individual or by a detrained athlete, in the initial stages of a new program.
- Muscle spasms or cramping, which may starve the muscle of the nutrients it needs to recover.
- Dehydration during and after a workout. Be sure to drink your electrolyte fluids!
- The build up of lactic acid and other waste product production during training. Many experts agree that lactic acid has nothing to do with DOMS, but it may contribute a small amount due to lactic acid accumulation hindering delivery of essential nutrients to the muscles.
How to Prevent DOMS
The first basic rule of recovering from DOMS is to be pro-active in preventing DOMS in the first place.
Take these steps to prevent DOMS:
- Drink an electrolyte-based fluid during your workout. Gatorade is the most popular.
- Drink a post-workout drink within 20 minutes of the end of your workout. I recommend Biotest Surge.
- Warm up for a couple minutes prior to intense exercise.
- Cool down and stretch for 10-15 minutes after intense exercise.
- Avoid forced negative reps.
- Avoid super slow negative reps.
- Avoid assisted negative reps. (get the idea?)
- Take it easy during your first week of training, or your first week back to training after a layoff.
How to Recover from DOMS
If you are not able to avoid DOMS and now must suffer through it for a couple days.
Here are a couple ways to get through DOMS faster:
- Light exercise to stimulate blood flow. Either cardio exercise or weightlifting with very light weights.
- Time. The pain will go away after a couple days.
- Gentle massage, or better yet deep tissue massage.
- Alternating hot and cold showers. 2 minutes each.
- Alternating hot pack / ice pack treatments. 5 minutes each.
- Ice cube massage or ice bath. =)
- Hydrotherapy or spa baths.
- Use a foam roller on the sore areas.
If you are lifting with the proper intensity, you will ultimately experience DOMS on one occasion or another. By taking steps to both prevent and treat DOMS, you should be able to minimize the pain. Best of luck!