The dreaded post workout aches, known collectively as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), are something that anyone who has pushed themselves physically will have encountered at some point in their fitness journey. Walking like John Wayne the morning after ‘leg day’ is all too familiar for some of us. They are a pain we love to hate.
The process of pushing your muscles through the pain barrier, causing severe fatigue or slight muscle tears which the body has to then begin repairing lead to the debilitating aching feeling that can hang around for days.
But why do they happen and how can we minimise them?
Any muscle taken to its limit or beyond becomes strained as it struggles to adapt to the new challenges placed on it. Micro trauma to the muscle fibres means the body is desperately trying to repair and regenerate in order for you to resume activity.
The DOMS can affect you regardless of your level of fitness. In the short term anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, can reduce the localised pain but I would never rely on medication as your long term solution.
One of the key things to aim for is hydration. Our body’s function and therefore repair much more efficiently if we are suitably hydrated, so prior to any exercise session ensure you have taken in sufficient fluids and sip water throughout.
A thorough warm up/ warm down goes without saying. You need to get the blood flowing to the body parts you’re about to work. The blood supplies the muscles with oxygen, water and valuable nutrients for optimal function.
Next is your form. This refers to correct technique when lifting, running, pulling etc. If you perform moves correctly, you have less chance of causing un-needed damage in the wrong areas.
Now the other thing you could do is take it steady during the workout but I’m never going to advocate that! So go hell for leather and leave nothing in the tank. Don’t let the DOMS scare you.
Post workout you have several options;
You can stretch immediately after exercising a certain muscle, holding each stretch for 20-30secs.
Jumping in an ice bath is another option favoured by professional athletes and rugby players but I doubt many ‘normal’ people have access to that… unless you have a super-sized freezer! A cold shower, or hot/ cold intervals is probably more realistic.
A decent night’s sleep aids recovery throughout the body so a solid block of shut eye is bound to do you good.
Light exercise. Hurting from heavy squats? Go for a light jog. Get the blood flowing to flush the toxins away from certain areas.
Re-fuel/ re-hydrate. Plenty of fluids after exercise help recovery and the correct nutrition provides your body all the chemicals it needs to clear out waste and repair tissue. Certain foods have been shown to reduce the effects of the DOMS;
- Cherries & Blueberries (include them in your post workout shake).
- Cruciferous veggies like sprouts and broccoli.
- High-glycaemic fruits and starches like potatoes, watermelon and pineapple.
- Fish like cod, salmon etc.
- Nuts such as almonds
The great thing about the DOMS is knowing exactly which muscles you’ve worked, the post workout pain is probably the most accurate indicator.
In my years of experience nothing helps clear up the DOMS better than light exercise. This might be the last thing you feel like doing but trust me it works. I’ve tried complete rest following vigorous exercise and this has prolonged the aches for days.