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Friday, July 25, 2014

Ouch! Why Am I Paying For My Workout 2 Days Later?

It's OK to be sore; just not destroyed
“What on earth did you do to me Friday?” my client texted. As my boyfriend and I dove into our traditional Sunday night Chinese takeout, I felt my cell phone vibrate. I don’t usually take weekend calls from clients, but she and I had been friends for years so I felt obligated to answer.

“It started this afternoon,” she began dramatically when I called her back. “I felt a dull, aching pain and stiffness in my upper arms. I think I might have torn a muscle or two and might need to see a doctor. Everything just hurts. Why is this happening now, when I have a first date tonight?”

I recalled that past Friday’s workout, where I introduced pull-ups and a few other eccentric exercises into my client’s already-intense routine. We had been training for months, so I felt confident she could handle those more advanced exercises even as I warned her the aftermath would hurt.

When Your Workout Strikes Back
My client wasn’t suffering a medical emergency. She was experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), muscle stiffness and achiness you’ve probably felt a few days after a comfort-zone pushing workout. Before I tell you my seven strategies to minimize DOMS, let’s talk a little more about why you experience it in the first place.

Whereas acute soreness occurs immediately after a workout, DOMS typically occurs one or two days after a workout. Swelling, tenderness, and loss of strength are among DOMS symptoms. Microtrauma, or muscle microtears, create those symptoms.

DOMS especially can result from eccentric or lengthening exercises, when your muscle elongates under tension because of an opposing force greater than the muscle generates.

A pull-up provides a great example. Imagine the top position of a pull-up, then very slowly lowering down with your arms fully extended in a full hanging position. If you push yourself hard enough or you’re an eccentric-exercise novice, you’re probably going to feel it in two days.

Should I Become Concerned?
Anyone who studied physiology understands muscles’ remarkable recovery and adaptation. Simply put, your muscles contain numerous defense mechanisms to prevent damage.

When your boss, significant other, or mentor pushes you outside your comfort zone in a good way, you might initially get a little snappy, even if you know in the long run it will make you a better person. Same deal with your muscles: Intense exercise can leave them a little sore and “cranky.”

Just like your ego, your muscles will get over that push, even if it stings a little in the moment. Feeling slightly stiff and sore can become invigorating and confirm you’ve busted your butt and went the extra mile. Several days later, you’re feeling those repercussions. Yet once you cross that soreness threshold, you end up in pain like my client.

Use common sense here. If you did heavy squats on Friday and you feel creaky going down on the toilet Sunday, you’re fine. If you can’t sit, you overdid it.

DOMS rarely becomes dangerous, though it can lead to muscle breakdown. More likely, it can become a real downer, zapping any fun from exercise and making a novice terrified to go anywhere near a gym again.

I often talk about recovery and repair. Think of DOMS as the “growing pains” part of the muscle hypertrophy equation that hurts a little even if in the bigger picture – especially with the right nutrients and recovery strategies – it helps your muscles grow stronger.

“Just one bout of soreness-producing exercise actually develops a partial protective effect that reduces the chance of developing soreness in that same activity for weeks or months into the future,” says the American College of Sports Medicine. 
In other words, your muscles eventually learn to deal and actually become stronger over time.

What Creates DOMS?
Any athlete knows that burning sensation that comes from lactic acid buildup, which signals you to stop overworking your body and recover. 

Yet contrary to popular opinion, lactic acid buildup doesn’t contribute to DOMS. Instead, experts believe muscle swelling results from an influx of white blood cells, anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, and other nutrients and fluids that flow to the muscles to repair post-workout “damage.”

“The type of muscle damage I am referring to is microscopic,” writes Richard Weil, “and is part of the normal process of growth in the body called anabolism.” 

Intensity determines degree of soreness. Sprinting up a hill will create more soreness than walking up that same hill. So will a higher number of reps.

Can you “push ahead” with DOMS? Sure, but your muscles benefit more when you allow them to fully recover. Overdoing exercise to the extent of extreme soreness can mean more than simply microtears at the cellular level; you might also feel muscle strain, which can range from oww! to Oh my God, I’m dying here.

What if you’re training or otherwise must work out daily? One study found such athletes should reduce the intensity and duration of exercise for one or two days following intense DOMS-inducing exercise. “Alternatively,” researchers suggested, “exercises targeting less affected body parts should be encouraged in order to allow the most affected muscle groups to recover.” 

7 Strategies to Minimize the Impact of DOMS
Gradually easing into a more intense exercise program with a qualified professional can greatly reduce the pain of DOMS and speed recovery. I’ve also helped numerous clients reduce post-workout soreness with these seven strategies:

1.      Use a foam roller post-exercise. Every heavy lifter and burst trainer should own this inexpensive device that puts pressure on trigger muscle points. Studies show foam rollers can help relax over-worked muscles and benefit DOMS.  Foam rollers aren’t just for muscle relaxation; I’ve seen clients perform better using one because of optimal recovery.
2.     Take an Epsom salts bath. Magnesium should be every athlete’s best friend. An Epsom salts bath makes an easy way to get this underappreciated mineral while helping tense muscles relax.
3.     Get a massage. As if you actually needed another reason to get a massage? One study found massage helped decrease DOMS about 30% and reduced swelling. If you can’t afford a swanky boutique, find a massage school where students can get practice and you save money.
4.     Participate in active rest. Cycle intense activity with what I call “active rest”: Walking, cycling, or other non-vigorous movement to help loosen stiff muscles. Active rest should be invigorating, not challenging.
5.     Focus on anti-inflammatory nutrients. I’m not just talking about an anti-inflammatory diet and fish oil. (That’s a given.) As an athlete, you want a comprehensive arsenal of anti-inflammatory nutrients like curcumin. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial found a novel curcumin delivery system called Meriva® could lessen pain intensity and muscle injury as well as reduce DOMS.  Meriva® usually does the job, though I have the occasional client who also needs an Advil.
6.     Try these amino acids. One study looked at squat- induced DOMS in 12 young, healthy, untrained female participants and concluded branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) could suppress that soreness. Another four-week study found the amino acid L-glutamine could improve DOMS
7.     If you believe you’ve injured yourself, remember R.I.C.E. Even when you’re in agony, you can easily remember this simple acronym. Rest the affected area, completely ice (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off), compress (wrap the area in an Ace bandage, tightly but not so much as to cut off circulation) and elevate the affected area higher than your heart. If pain, swelling, and other symptoms persist, please see your doctor.

I’m always looking for new strategies to reduce DOMS. What strategies would you add to my list? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook fan page.
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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at© 2014 Jinifit, Inc.

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