How to Prevent DOMS and Muscle Soreness After Exercise and Workouts

Best Ways to Prevent DOMS & Relieve Muscle Fever

DOMS, or ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’, is the pain and aches felt in muscles several hours or days after exercise and strength training. It is something everyone has to deal with but some of us suffer from this more than others.

Muscle soreness is effectively your muscles telling you they need a rest. You’ve worked them hard and they need time to recover and rebuild before the next session.

DOMS can sometimes be mistaken for muscle injuries so it’s importance to understand when your muscles are suffering from DOMS and soreness or when they are actually injured.

Common Causes of DOMS in Training and Sport

DOMS, also known as ‘muscle fever,’ is the result of tears within the muscle tissue. This isn’t something to worry about as this is how muscles develop and grow. The soreness can be seen as a way of your muscles telling you they are currently repairing and rebuilding.

The full effect of the DOMS, or muscle fever, can be felt between 24-72 hours after training.

The most common cause of DOMS is probably strength training or HIIT. The muscles are put under intense tension and as a result need time to recover and rebuild. It isn’t just strength training that causes DOMS and soreness, any sports or physical activities can result is muscle stiffness and aches. Sports will tend to create more specific DOMS to select muscle groups. But regardless of which muscles are sore, we can treat and reduce the impact of DOMS in the same way.

As mentioned by Clayton South at BodyBuilding.com, “The inflammatory response system that activates following resistance training stimulus triggers the activation of pro-inflammatory cytokinases and PGE2 – prostaglandin E2. The activation of this pro-inflammatory response system and PGE2 draws water to the damaged body part, leading to edema, and increased pain sensitivity to exercise.”

Your own personal health and athletic conditioning will also influence how susceptible you are to suffering from the DOMS. If you train every day and your body is used to intense workouts, your muscles probably won’t be as sore as someone who is following the same workout for the first time.

Younger people are vulnerable to DOMS because their conditioning is not yet fully developed to handle heavy and intense workouts, and older people are vulnerable to DOMS because of their age, shifting hormonal status and decreased recovery responses. It’s something that can affect us all.

If you’re suffering from DOMS because you’re trying out a new workout, then the soreness can be expected to decrease over time. This is due to what’s known as “repeated bound effect.” Muscles rapidly adapt to reduce further damage from the same exercise. This means if you perform the same exercises or the same movements, over time your muscles will adapt to this and you won’t feel as sore or suffer from DOMS as noticeably. Obviously, if you change your workout then expect to see increased muscle soreness as the muscles are forced to adapt again.

Myths about DOMS

Is DOMS caused by a build-up of lactic acid in your muscles?

No, this has been widely rejected as an association with DOMS. Recent studies have suggested that DOMS is the result of micro-trauma in the muscles and surrounded tissues. This causes inflammation. DOMS is most associated with eccentric muscle contraction. This is because you’re placing a higher load on your muscles compared to concentric contraction.

No pain, no gain?

This isn’t true either. You can train very effectively without feeling sore the next day. Most professional athletes need to train multiple times a day at a high intensity and their bodies and workouts are adapted to ensure they can train recover quickly.

The DOMS isn’t something to be scared of, but it shouldn’t be seen as something to achieve after every workout.

Muscle soreness and muscle growth have not been proven to have a strong correlation. As a result, it wouldn’t be recommended to use muscle soreness as a gauge for the effectively of a workout or training plan.

Is DOMS a sign of muscle weakness?

Anyone is susceptible to DOMS and muscle soreness. Often those of a higher level of fitness will actually suffer from DOMS more as they push and test their muscles more intensely than others.

DOMS doesn’t reflect muscle weakness though and shouldn’t be seen in this way.

Preventing DOMS, Muscle Soreness & Muscle Fever

So how can we limit the impact on DOMS on our muscles and bodies? Well, there are some tricks and tips you can implement which have been shown to be effective treatment for DOMS. Like most things in fitness, different people will respond and react differently to these methods of treatment, so try and find the one that works for you.

Personally, I have found both foam rollers and recovery sessions the best way, however, you may prefer other methods of treatment.

The word ‘treatment’ is somewhat misleading here and we’re not implying you will never feel the effects of the DOMS. Instead, by following these activities, the impact of the DOMS is likely to reduce.

Stretching – Warm Up/Cool Down

Warming up and cooling down correctly can certainly help ease your muscles into a workout. It is generally considered that warm-ups that involve moving and more functional movements, rather than static stretches, are the best way to get your muscles ready for a big workout.

Warming up should be taken seriously and depending on the workout presented in front of you (and your personal physical conditioning), you may well want to warm-up for 30 minutes.

Foam Roller

Foam rollers are a fantastic way of giving your muscles a deep tissue massage without the need of a professional sports massage. Foam rollers would always be in my kit bag as they can help relieve the tightness of muscles quick and efficiently.

Foam rollers help relieve muscle soreness as you use your bodyweight to press your muscles against the ridged foam. Studies have shown the usefulness of foam rollers for reducing soreness and aches. It can feel slightly painful using them but if the feeling is unbearable, then consult a local sports physiotherapist to take a proper look at it.

Foam rollers come in different shapes and sizes. You may decide to get more than one as the different designs are often aimed at slightly different types of muscle relieve.

Sports Massages

A professional sports massage is noticeably better than just using a foam roller, however, this isn’t often convenient or practical after every workout.

Sports massages come in many forms and can target precise muscles and muscle tissue to resolve the pain and soreness.

Muscle soreness and muscle pain is often more complex than we’d hope for. DOMS can often be one of many muscle pains someone is feeling. For example, Muscle knots, also known as myofascial trigger points, are often found alongside DOMS. The advantage of going to for a sports massage is that you get a personal treatment that can help resolve all the muscular pains and aches you may be experiencing.

Recovery Sessions

Recovery sessions can mean different things to different people, but generally its a workout dedicated on conditioning and repairing muscles (as opposed to muscle growth and development).

I’ve personally found yoga and pilates good forms of recovery sessions that help ensure I’m getting my workout in but in a way that is achievable when the DOMS has set in.

Athletes often have recovery sessions strategically placed within their routines. For example, rugby players couldn’t do full contact training 7 days a week without experiencing severe muscle fatigue, DOMS, and injury. As a result, most teams will dedicate specific days for weight training, contact sessions and recovery to maximise their efficiency.

Supplements

There are lots of supplements on the market specifically designed to help with recovery. Many athletes and professional sportsman will rely on these types of supplements to ensure they are ready for another intense training session as quick as possible.

BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) are a popular option for muscle repair and growth. BCAAs help develop protein synthesis and reducing muscle breakdown.

Caffeine is also thought to help with muscle soreness. The science behind this train of thought is based on the fact caffeine will block the central nervous system that is related to pain. Although this isn’t conclusive, many studies have shown those who consume caffeine before and after exercise recover from the DOMS quicker than those who don’t.

Compression Clothing

Compression clothing can be great for relieving and reducing the feeling of sore muscles. Research has found that marathon runners who wore compression trousers in the 24 hours after the race reported a less soreness than those who didn’t. Compression tights and tops help to support muscles, reduce unwanted movement and can help reduce soft tissue damage. Compression clothing comes in a variety of forms, from thin layers to more robust clothing.

Change Workout Routine

It may be the case that your current workout routine is a bit too ambitious and your body is struggling to keep up. Try dropping the weight or dropping the intensity for a few weeks to let your muscles adapt and prepare themselves for the new workout. Once you’ve got a few weeks under your belt, try the workout again at the original level.

It is recommended to follow established workout plans. These will often begin with an introductory period to allow your muscles to get used to the workout.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is important when exercising and keeping fit. Always keep a bottle of water with you during your workouts and make sure you drink throughout the routine.

Dehydration will not only increase the severity of the DOMS but can also lead to much more serious ill issues so keeping hydrated is vital.

Increase Sleep and Rest

If you’re training hard or adopting a new routine then your body will feel the effects of this. If you don’t rest enough you will be susceptible to both DOMS but also illness and injury.

Contrasting Hot and Cold Shower

The blood that flows around your body carries with it all the nutrients and building blocks needed for muscle recovery and repair.

Sports Physiotherapists often advise switching between cold and hot while in the shower. This change in temperature can cause alternating vasodilatation and vasoconstriction of the blood vessels in the affected area. This can make the system more optimized for getting the nutrients to the muscles.

Final Thoughts

DOMS and muscle soreness doesn’t have to be as limiting as it once was. With a variety of exercises and treatment options, you can reduce the feeling of sore muscles and get back to training.

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Rob Turp

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