Hands up. Who’s pushed hard on a workout, doing a few extra reps, extra exercises thinking ‘yeah I still feel great’ only to wake up the next morning feeling like you’ve been hit with a ton of bricks…? Basically these are the things that I know I should be doing but don’t.
DOMS, oh doms. The bane of any regular gym-goers life. Exercising feels great until you wake the next morning and can’t move… So what is it exactly? Well it’s a little more extreme than just regular muscle soreness, and trust me when I say you’ll know the difference. You’ll know. DOMS appears like a day or so after a workout session. You think you’re fine and then all of a sudden it just hits.
From reading articles and studies, the most common description is ‘inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the connective tissue elements’. Basically, structural tears to your muscle fibres. Or something. (I don’t have a science degree, sorry.) It seems to be the inflammatory response that causes the pain sensitivity. Anyway, those tears will heal and repair, and I’m told that this is how muscles increase in size. So I mean, it’s all good right?
Why You Should Cool Down Properly and Stretch
Some reports say that stretching doesn’t really help with DOMs, others say it does. Now you should never do any static stretching before a workout – your muscles aren’t prepared for that – but warming up with dynamic stretches is good. And I always find that when I do a few yoga poses after a workout I don’t feel as tight and I don’t feel as achy or tense. Something that I am absolutely horrendous at doing however is cooling down after cardio or stretching after a hard session.
There’s also foam rolling. Using your body weight, you roll your major muscle groups slowly over the foam roller, applying pressure to tight areas. It helps to smooth out knots and increase blood flow, and is actually pretty painful. Like getting a sports massage, except not as good and you’re the one torturing yourself. It helps though, it really does.
Getting the Right Nutrition
You need to feed your body to help those muscles recover, and that means getting plenty of good nutrition in there. To keep my protein up after a workout I generally try to have a shake (protein, banana, almond milk, cacao powder) as soon as I get in from the gym and whilst waiting for proper food to cook. It can be difficult to get the eating bit right, but the main point is to make sure you’re eating enough. Training hard and eating too little is never good. You won’t have the energy afterwards, you’ll be tired and you’ll probably get hangry. I feel like I’m permanently hangry right now to be honest. Oh, and drinking more water always helps.
Braving the Cold/hot water
One thing I do like to do when getting in from the gym is to have a quick blast under a freezing cold shower. I mean usually I’ll just stick my legs under the cold because they’re the muscles that will make me suffer the most. I’m not that brave. I like to tell myself that it’s the same as having an ice bath (it will never be the same) and that I’m doing my legs some good (it does actually do them good). A lot of websites do recommend to have hot/cold showers, switching the temperature every few minutes. It helps to get the blood flowing. Last time mine was really bad (like lasted 3 days bad) I took a bath with Epsom salts. They’re supposed to help with muscle soreness. Did it cure it? No, but it was relaxing and I did feel better afterwards.
Keep Your Muscles Moving
Its all too easy to go the gym and then just come home and slob about. Too easy. And I wouldn’t expect anything less if you had no other plans. BUT, you do need to keep moving. Get up at least every hour to stretch your legs and get the blood flowing. My leg day is getting generally Monday or Tuesday so sitting at my desk all day on Wednesday at work is awful. My legs just seize up. I make sure I get up every hour to have a quick walk.
Low impact exercise like walking or swimming is also good to do when you’re feeling really sore. Once you get moving, it doesn’t hurt so much. It’s the keeping still that gives you more pain.