Last week we talked about the dreaded DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). You know, that painful soreness you feel after working out for the first time in a while, or doing a new exercise routine that you weren’t quite ready for. If you missed the article, give it a read so you know exactly what we’re trying to prevent and treat in this post. Let’s start with prevention…
How To Prevent DOMS
In my experience, there is no 100% sure way to avoid DOMS when it comes to exercising. If you don’t workout and then go in to it pretty hard, you’ll experience DOMS. Though you can’t fully avoid DOMS, you can minimize its severity if you’re smart about your workout. When I suggest being smart about your workout, I’m saying that you have to ease into the routine, not go at it hard out of the gate.
Here’s an example of how I treat a new weight lifting routine. I take this approach whether I’m coming back from an extended period of no exercise (which doesn’t usually happen) and when I’m changing my exercise routine. I typically perform the same exercise routine for 4-6 weeks, and then switch to different exercises and types of exercise. When this happens, I don’t hit the routine hard and heavy. I take it slow. For example, let’s say the routine consists of 6 exercises using weights. The routine calls for 3 sets of each exercise and a max weight where I can perform 8-10 reps. When I start the routine the first week, I pick a weight about 70% of what I believe my 8-10 reps max is. This way I don’t strain the muscles to much right out of the gate. Additionally, for the first workout, I only perform 2 sets of each exercise, not 3. So, I use a weight that’s under my max and I only perform two sets of the exercises the first time I’m hitting those muscles in a new workout routine.
Sure, I have a little bit of DOMS within the next day or two but it’s no where near how bad it could be if I had went with my 8-10 rep max and 3 sets of each exercise as soon as I started. This first workout kind of wakes each muscle group up to what exercises are to come in the next few weeks. This may seem like I’m taking it easy, but I prefer to think of it as being smart. Using this approach, I can always exercise again 2 days later, rather than missing 4-5 days because I pushed too hard on day 1.
How to Treat DOMS
If you made the mistake and didn’t ease into the workout, it’s not the end of the world, though you may be experiencing quite a bit of pain. Though time is the only cure for DOMS, here are a few ways to reduce the soreness and stiffness you’ll experience:
1. Keep Moving – You may feel like you want to just lay down when experiencing DOMS, but one way to make it better is to keep moving. Don’t stay in bed for 2 days. Get up, move around and stretch those muscles out. I have scheduled times each day that I use to perform a series of stretches that keep me limber. Take some time and stretch and move those muscles.
2. Massages – Get a massage, or massage yourself. No, NOT a deep tissue massage, but a massage with some lotion where the muscles are kneaded a bit and shaken up. These can feel quite painfully good. Like that old song, It Hurts So Good.
3. Baths – Warm and cold baths both help. A warm bath loosens the muscles up and can make them easier to use for a bit. Cold baths can treat sore muscles and help them heal a bit more quickly. I like to take a warm bath followed by a cold, three minute shower.
4. Topical Analgesics – Menthol-based analgesics seem to work best here. My wife is a big fan of rubbing alcohol for her legs when they are really sore after a 5k run. I really don’t use any topical analgesics since I do a pretty good job of limiting any DOMS I could experience. Even if I’m really sore, I’m just not a fan of these.
DOMS is something everyone will experience at one level or another if you work out. But DOMS doesn’t have to be debilitating and can be lessened if you take a similar approach to the one I take. For the first workout or two, only do 70% of your max and only 2 sets of each exercise. Take it easy the first workout or two. You’ll still feel some soreness and get a good workout in, but you won’t experience DOMS nearly as bad as if you went hard out of the gate. If your DOMS is really uncomfortable, keep moving, get a massage, and mix in warm and cold baths or showers. These will all lessen the pain and make DOMS more tolerable.
Remember, if you can manage and plan for DOMS, you can avoid missing any workouts, which is necessary for continued success.