Getting started in training or a change in how you prepare for an upcoming season can be a very exciting time. Unfortunately, moving into the second or third day of new activity can lead to discomfort and stiffness from muscles and tissues you had no idea were involved in the activity.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), a part of the adaptation process, is an inflammatory response from the body due to an unusual exertion. DOMS can occur anywhere from 12 to 36 hours following a training session.
The biggest takeaway from this article that I’d like to mention now is that there is no magic cure-all strategy to completely prevent or eliminate DOMS. The best thing we can do to mitigate it is to properly prepare for training with strategies that should account for fueling and an adequate warm-up. If you plan to hit the gym hard to prepare for an upcoming season, follow these methods so you can feel better and hit the ground running.
Dynamic Movement & Static Stretching
Stretching and end-range movements are one of the most underutilized remedies to get ahead and reduce the symptoms of DOMS. The best time to perform static stretching to reduce DOMS is immediately after the training session during the cool-down period. Videos have been included below as a resource for stretching the upper and lower body.
Ice baths and cold showers are other worthwhile methods to reduce symptoms. The cooling effect here works by cooling the temperature of the skin and damaged tissues leading to a constriction of blood vessels. This method has been used in elite sports for decades for a good reason. The constriction effect that ice baths have helps to reduce swelling and inflammation, often bringing on immediate relief.
Like ice baths, heat application can have a profound effect on getting ahead of muscle soreness following training. According to research, when heat is applied, muscle temperature increases, allowing blood flow to increase, which leads to fresh oxygen and nutrients being shadowed to the area of soreness. The opposite of the cold plunge. Athletes could use showers, tubs, or heated blankets to target global regions or smaller heat packs to target individual muscle groups.
Knowing the cold plunges and heat application have opposing effects contrast baths or showers combine the best of both worlds to relieve soreness and improve recovery. In this method, after your workout, you perform intervals of time alternating between cold and heat for 1 to 5 minutes each. A sample 10-minute contrast shower protocol is listed below. As mentioned before, the tools you use will depend on what you have easy access to, whether that is saunas, cold or hot tubs, showers, or even a small inflatable pool.
All of these methods work well at reducing muscle soreness however, the best way to steer clear of DOMS is to be proactive and consistent with your training program. This includes avoiding large jumps in training loads, whether that’s the weight moved, distance covered, training time, or overall intensity. As a general rule of thumb, any increase from a training load should not include a greater than 10% increase to avoid muscle soreness. Pushing too hard too soon also typically causes exercise techniques to degrade and can lead to potentially more severe injuries.
For the most severe cases of muscle soreness, the overall best approach would be to listen to your body and take a rest day or more if needed to allow your body time to adapt and repair itself. This may include being completely out of the gym or training facility or spending additional time focusing on movements and skills that don’t aggravate the affected area to avoid making things worse.