“I’m sooo sore!” This is a common comment I get when I ask a new client/camper how they are feeling a day or two after their first workout, or even a veteran client/camper a day or two after a new workout routine. This soreness is called “delayed onset muscle soreness” or DOMS. Science can not tell you what causes DOMS. Though science has now decided that it is NOT caused by lactic acid, which was a common belief. It seems DOMS takes about 24-48 hours to really set in. This soreness is commonly referred to as “stiffness” a day or two after an intense workout, particularly after a workout utilizing negative or slow repititions.
DOMS is also no discerner of persons. Meaning it affects the deconditioned, first time boot camper as well as the highly trained athlete. It used to be believed muscle soreness was neccassary for muscle developement and strength gains. Studies suggest otherwise. One thing is for certain, DOMS can seriously affect your desire to workout. To this end I am giving you a list of some common “cures” or “treatments” for DOMS. Some of these are backed up by studies, others are just anecdotal and may seem quixotic, while others have studies that both back up and refute the claim.
1. General full body dynamic warm-up: a proper warm up will go along ways in decreasing the severity of DOMS. A good, dynamic warm up utilizes full body movements that result in increased blood flow to working muscles and increased overall body temperature. These type of warm-ups utilize “yoga-like” exercises incorporating balance, stretching and strengthening. Poses are held for 2-3 seconds. The warm-up we use at EXL, like the beloved “workout before the workout” or the “sumo squat progression” are examples of a general warm-up. Studies have found this to be one of the most effective for reducing DOMS (Aust J Physiother. 2007;53(2):91-5).
2. Massage or foam rolling: I have many testimonials to how effective a foam rolling session after a workout reduces muscle soreness. It was once thought to help in increasing lactic acid breakdown through increased circulation to affected areas. Now that we know DOMS is not associated with lactic acid it is believed to help in connective tissue repair, which is the specific tissue DOMS affects. One study actually showed a 30% decrease in muscle soreness and swelling with post-exercise massage (J Athl Train. 2005 Jul-Sep;40(3):174-80).
3. It was also once believed to help reduce the inflammation from acute injury including DOMS it was suggested to take over the counter ant-inflammatories like ibuprofen or aspirin. Studies now suggest that this acute inflammation process is necessary for recovery. And by taking anti-inflammatories it may reduce the immediate pain and inflammation but this it may actually lengthen the healing process (Sports Med. winter 2007; 1, 3-4). Even the pain relieving qualities of acetaminophen (Tylenol) aren’t worth the potential cancer causing consequences (J Clin Oncol. 2011 Jun 10;29(17):2424-31. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2011.34.6346).
There is a growing body of research and studies pointing to curcumin or turmeric extract being very effective at pain relief and as an anti-inflammatory (https://examine.com/supplements/curcumin/). The recommended daily dose is around 1000 mg/day.
4. Ingesting a workout/recovery shake has been shown to reduce DOMS as well as assist in energy recovery for your next exercise bout (J Sports Sci. 2004 Apr;22(4):365-72.) It is no news flash that I am a proponent of a workout recovery shake. Many studies have been done on this supplement. Let me set the record straight first by saying a workout/recovery shake is NOT a protein shake. It does have protein, but it actually has 2 x as many carbs. It helps with muscle repair and energy system recovery. It must have fast digesting carbs and proteins. These are NOT found in regular protein shakes. I have only found 2 brands that I recommend. First JayLab Pro Workout and secondly Biotest Surge. These are 2 companies in a very deceptive market that I trust.
If fat loss is your goal, then I would recommend focusing on your nutrition over taking a pre or post-workout recovery shake. I used to believe that it was for everybody. Now, I strictly recommend it for those who already have good nutrition and can adjust their meals accordingly to accommodate the extra energy.
5. Ingesting vitamin C : Studies suggest that ingesting 250 mg of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) a couple times a day can help with connective tissue repair and DOMS (Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 May;89(3-4):393-400. Epub 2003 Apr 1).
6. Supplementing with a quality fish oil: There are multiple studies supporting fish oil supplementation. I’ve said this many times before, unless you’re an Eskimo you should be supplementing with fish oil. It has been shown to help with chronic inflammation (JSS medical research, inc. June 9, 2004, unpublished.). Though this does not include DOMS, it does cut down on general muscle and joint inflammation and pain which can only help with workout recovery and general wellness. Studies suggest as much as 6-10,000 mg of EPA/DHA (EPA/DHA is the active substance in fish oil) a day or 1,000 mg Neptune Krill Oil per day. To get get this much oil you will need 6-10 capsules of fish oil/day (that’s a lot of capsules) or 2 Neptune Krill Oil Capsule. Once again I recommend Prograde EFA. If you want to read more on fish oil check out my blog article, “Eat Fat to Lose Fat“,”I Found the Magic Weight Loss Pill“.
7. Performing low intensity exercise such as walking or restorative yoga has shown to have mixed results in improving DOMS recovery (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 1996 Apr;28(4):450-6; J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Nov;18(4):723-9.) Despite the research many friends and clients will testify that performing a cool down workout immeditely after an intense workout can reduce soreness. I also strongly encourage clients to stay active in the “off” days of strength training as well. Perform your cardio, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park on the far side of the parking lot, play with your kids, anything, but just sitting and letting your muscle seize.
8. Ice bathes, cold bathes or contrast bathes after exercise have shown contradicting findings (After Exercise, Quin, E. Sept ’08). I do have to say that I have personally felt the benefits of ice bathes. And many professional athletes swear by them.
9. Glutamine: This is the most abundant free floating amino acid found in the body. By supplementing with glutamine you can assist your body with muscle repair. Studies don’t mention whether it affects tissue presenting DOMS symptoms, but I can testify that I notice a difference when taking glutamine. Unfortunately I don’t have a brand to recommend. I currently use Metrex, which I got at Good Earth.
10. Drink plenty of water. I don’t have any research on this, but I do have common sense. Keeping your body hydrated helps your cells function better. By products will be flushed away and proper cell function including tissue repair can ensue. There is no set amount of water to drink. A starting point is 0.5 oz per pound body weight. But, this can vary on the amount of exercsise or ambient temperature.
I hope these suggtions help. Like I said before there is no cure for DOMS. It’s seems like it’s nature’s little tax on exercise, that everyone has to pay. These are merely tips to help avoid paying in a higher tax bracket.
Mat “the trainer”
Mat Gover BS, CSCS and Pam Gover CPT are Orem fitness boot camp instructors, personal trainers, and real world fat loss experts. They also own EXL Fitness & Performance, a personal and group training studio. To book Mat to speak at your Utah Valley company, club, or organization please contact him by email at email@example.com or by phone at (801) 836.7185. For a free two-week trial to boot camp and experience the best personal training in Utah Valley please call Mat or drop by the gym (1623 N State St, Orem right next to Costa Vida).
PS: Word of the DAY: quixotic (kwik-SOT-ik) adj. foolishly, impractical; capricious, impulsive.