Are you feeling muscle pain, soreness or stiffness after a workout?
You know, the pain when you walk downstairs or go to sit on the toilet?
Well, congratulations! You must have had an awesome workout!
Some people worry when they wake up and feel stiff the next day, but there is no need. It’s normal to feel these symptoms.
In this e-book I will explain what causes the aches and pains and what you can do to ease them.
Firstly, I would like to spend a few minutes explaining what this nasty, but sometimes enjoyable pain is. I say enjoyable, because when you feel like this you know you have had a good workout, and when you have had a good workout you get the feel good factor, right?
Anyway, the muscle pain, soreness and stiffness that you feel 24-72 hours after a workout is call Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and it normally happens when you change your workout routine or you change the intensity.
For example, if your normal workout routine includes 3 sets of 20 body weight squats, but you change it to 3 sets of 20 squats with a 30kg bar on your back, chances are you will experience DOMS, because you have increased the intensity.
Or, if you have joined a boot camp where you perform exercises that you wouldn’t normally do in the gym or at home, or maybe have never done before, you will probably feel the effects of DOMS because you have changed your whole workout stimulus and your body is not used to coping with these stresses.
But, don’t let this put you off, this is a good thing! I will explain why…
If you feel the aches and pains after a workout it is your body’s natural response to the unusual exertion and it is part of an adaptation process that your body goes through to help it recover and grow stronger and fitter.
DOMS feels like a dull pain that slowly increases over a few days after exercise and is normally at its worst in the first 2 days. After this time period it will slowly ease off. However, the muscle pain and stiffness you feel is not the same pain as when you pick up an injury.
If you feel an acute, sudden or sharp pain shortly after or during exercise, you may have picked up an injury such as a strain or sprain. In this case I recommend you see a doctor or physiotherapist to get further help and advice on how to deal with the injury.
Now that we have defined DOMS, I bet you would like to know what causes it?
Well, we don’t know for sure what causes it, but it is thought that it is a result of microscopic tears in the muscle fibres. Before we go any further, please don’t let the thought of tearing your muscle fibres worry you, your body needs to go through this procedure to grow stronger.
When you change your workout routine you are challenging your body and putting it under new stresses that it is not used to. This causes the microscopic tears in the muscle fibres. The amount of tearing depends how hard and long you exercise and what exercises you do.
Movements that are new to your routine and that you are not used to can lead to DOMS, but eccentric muscle contractions seem to cause the most soreness. An eccentric movement causes the muscle to forcefully contract while it lengthens, like when you lower the weight back to the starting position in a bicep curl for example. Or the lowering phase of a push up, or a squat. Running downhill or walking downstairs are also working your muscle eccentrically.
After you have pushed yourself through a hard workout and you have caused the microscopic tears, your body’s natural response is to protect itself so it creates a swelling around the muscle. This swelling is also thought to contribute towards the muscle pain and soreness that you feel.
As soon as your workout is finished your body starts working on repairing the muscles (there are certain things you can do to speed up this process which I will go through later). When your body repairs the damaged fibres, they grow back bigger and stronger.
You see, this is a process that we need to go through to increase your strength, endurance and stamina, as well as improving the way you look (as in muscle tone). Growing more muscle has a positive affect on burning body fat too!
There are many things you can do to help speed up the recovery process and ease your aches and pains. Let’s have a look at each of them…
Many athletes take a dip in ice water baths after exercise to help the recovery process and reduce muscle soreness. Most athletes that take part in high intensity/strenuous sports all take the plunge after a hard session/game or event.
Why? Because, as I explained earlier, when we cause microscopic tearing of the muscle fibres our body creates a swelling, which is thought to cause the stiffness and pain. Taking a dip in an ice bath for about 5-10 minutes after exercise is thought to help flush waste products like lactic acid out of the tissues and reduce swelling and tissue breakdown.
However, most studies on ice baths have shown inconclusive results, but have found that water between 14-24 degrees has the best affect.
Light exercise or active recovery as it is sometimes known is often overlooked by many people when they experience DOMS. Mostly because the last thing you want to do when you are stiff and aching is to do more exercise. But, believe me you will benefit form a little bit of light exercise.
Because when you exercise, your body needs energy and nutrients and we supply our muscles with it via our bloodstream. When the muscles absorb the nutrients it produces waste products.
The main waste product, lactic acid is produced when there is increased demand on your muscles and this causes our muscles to cramp and cause pain after exercise.
And, just like your bloodstream delivers the nutrients it also helps transport the waste products out of your body.
So, if you raise your heart rate slightly it will pump blood around your body faster which will speed up the process of getting rid of the waste products.
Things like going out for a walk, a gentle cycle or a swim are an easy way to raise your heart rate and speed up the recovery process. It doesn’t have to be for long either; 15-20 minutes should help!
Research into sports medicine has proved that muscles recover five times faster if they are massaged rather than rested between strenuous workouts. This is the reason why you see athletes being massaged, from professional footballers to grass roots players.
Some research has found that massage was effective in reducing the effects of DOMS by approximately 30%.
With fast rhythmic strokes, massage will help warm up the sore areas and increase the blood flow to the area, which helps remove the waste products like lactic acid out of the body. Start with fast rhythmic strokes to warm and relax them. Concentrate on the large muscle groups like calves, thighs, shoulders and back. Once the muscle are warm you can start friction rubs or kneading but, be careful not to go to firm over the sore areas (stay within your comfort zone, it shouldn’t hurt too much). If the aching has not gone from muscles after two/three days, you should seek medical advice as they may be injured rather than just over-exerted.
Although research doesn’t find gentle stretching reduces soreness, some people find it simply feels good.
And, with a good flexibility programme you can gain the following benefits:
- improve circulation
- improve range of motion
- improve posture
- decrease joint stiffness
- decrease muscle tension
- improve your ability to relax
A complete stretching routine can take as little as 10 minutes. The best time to perform your flexibility routine is straight after exercise. This is when the muscle is the warmest and when you can use the relaxation. Focus on stretching the muscles you use the most during your specific exercise or sport.
Proper Stretching Technique
- Perform balanced stretching. This means you should always stretch the muscles on both sides of your body evenly. Don’t stretch one side more than the other side.
- Avoid over-stretching. Never stretch to the point of pain or discomfort. You will feel slight tension or a pull on the muscle at the peak of the stretch.
- Go slow! Always stretch slowly and evenly. Hold the stretch for about thirty seconds and release slowly.
- Never bounce or jerk while stretching. This can cause injury as a muscle is pushed beyond it’s ability. All stretches should be smooth, and slow.
- Don’t forget to breathe. Flexibility exercises should be relaxing. Deep easy, even breathing is key to relaxation. Never hold your breath while you stretch.