Dealing With Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

This is an appropriate topic for me to write about at the moment. My injury is recovering, which is allowing me to resume training, but I’m paying for the two months of forced inactivity. (Strength & Conditioning session on Monday… two days later I still can’t walk properly. My coach is a sadist. Damn him! and damn me for being such an exhibitionist and actually doing those 20kg one-armed cleans-and-presses!) As well as that, I’ve taken on a few new clients who should probably be prepared for what awaits…

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is the name given to the phenomenon which most people who do any kind of strength training should be familiar with; that stiff, sore, burning feeling you get the day (or two days!) after a session. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is a good thing, a sign that you’ve challenged your body, reached past your comfort zone and your normal limits, and caused microscopic tears to muscle fibres, which is what is going to help you to see changes.

When I say “tear” I don’t mean a tearing in the muscle structure itself, which compromises strength or function or is classed as an injury. We’re talking about microscopic tears in the individual fibres which make up the muscle. I always emphasise the importance of recovery and nutrition to clients (note to self: take own advice!) because it is through recovery and nutrition that you see gains. The body’s natural response is to repair these microscopic tears. To do this, it needs good nutrition, particularly protein. You also need to be eating some carbs, particularly shortly after training, to replenish muscle glycogen stores. I know many people whose main goal is to “lose weight” (by which they usually mean reduce body-fat and increase muscle-tone) try to avoid carbs. While it’s true that an excess of refined carbs will contribute to weight gain, it is important to have some carbohydrate intake to make sure that you have the energy to work hard enough to create change in your body. If you don’t have the energy to lift heavy enough or to up your intensity during your cardio sessions, it will take much longer to increase muscle strength, size and tone and to burn through excess fat stores.

So, nutrition is important. Whatever your goals, strength training is about gains, whether it’s a gain in size, power, strength, or endurance. So feed your body!

Recovery takes a few forms. If you’ve pushed yourself hard enough, you may need passive rest. This is nice, isn’t it? Passive rest means sleeping, watching TV or spending time on the Playstation. Didn’t think you’d hear your PT say that, did you? Don’t abuse this knowledge by turning it into an excuse though! You have to have worked really hard and be feeling extremely sore for this to be valid!

Your muscle soreness is also due to a build-up of lactic acid, so another recovery method is slow-gentle cardio. If you’re feeling like I am right now, this is the last thing you feel like doing, but getting your muscles warm and moving will make you feel better almost straight away, and the aerobic activity will process any remaining lactic acid in your system. Don’t make things worse with anything intense, a walk or slow jog is all you need.

Anything that promotes blood flow is going to help, including massage, spa-baths, ice-baths and salt water.

And remember, stay hydrated. 

Congratulations on pushing yourself hard enough to feel like this! Feed your body well and take good care of it, and know that as you’re resting it’s working on adapting to your training, and repairing itself to give you greater strength, size, power and endurance!

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