Unless you’ve been doing some of the more extreme and hyper-intensive exercise methods like Prancersize, nearly everyone will have experienced muscular soreness. In the CrossFit world it’s commonplace. It’s all about the DOMs and the AMs.
The DOMs are the Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness. They typically kick in 24-72 hours after working out.
The AMs are acute muscle soreness which typically happens much quicker, usually a minute or so after a muscular contraction, and it will typically disappear quite soon after stopping whatever you’ve been doing, although it can also lead to the DOMs.
The AMS are more like a spasm or huge muscle pump.
The first thing I say to everyone who asks me about muscular soreness is that they need to be able to recognise the obvious differences between soreness and injury.
Yes, soreness can hurt and feel debilitating. Yes, it can feel like you may have damaged something, but soreness will typically go in 3-5 days depending on your training experience and how you deal with it.
An injury, on the other hand, will need a lot longer to recover from, depending on the severity.
My worst muscle soreness lasted about a week from a running, double under, box jump workout. I’d just bought some fancy flat shoes, thinking they’d make me faster, and I did not take the time to learn how to adapt my running style. The result: Nasty calf soreness and a week of hobbling around like a retired ballet dancer with piles.
I could have prevented this with some decent mobilisation and some time on a lacrosse ball.
On the other hand my worst injury lasted nearly 2 years (medial epicondylitis) and if I don’t mobilise well enough, a 20 year old shoulder injury from 1993 still gives me grief.
This could have been avoided all together by getting a decent coach and not reading articles in bodybuilding magazines, but that’s another story…
So here are a few facts to help you deal with soreness.
1- Mobilise beforehand.
Simply “warming up” by running around the building won’t stop the DOMs. Any coach who frequently tells you to warm up this way is probably ineffective, bored, has no idea what else to do or just wants some peace and quiet from you in the few moments you’re off running.
Warming up is used to release adrenaline, increase heart rates, enable better cardio-respiratory efficiency, stimulate the nervous system and many other things that have little to do with muscular soreness induced by exercise!
2- Get a massage, ART (active release therapy) or a do it yourself lacrosse-ball administration.
This has been proven to reduce the intensity of post exercise muscle soreness (bjsm.bmj.com/content/37/1/72.abstract)
3- Wear compression garments.
I know I’ve been guilty of mocking spandex, but the latest compression gear is also proven to reduce muscular soreness and they make you look like Superman or a weird cat burglar (which is always a plus!).
This is a double-edged sword because there have been plenty of studies proving that stretching doesn’t prevent soreness at all. However, if done correctly, stretching, just like massage, will alleviate the symptoms of soreness, and a good massage therapist will put your sore muscles through a range of motion whilst applying pressure.
It might go against everything you feel but movement increases blood flow to the muscle, which promotes faster recovery. This is especially relevant to high intensity multiple-event sports (crossfit) and endurance events.
6- Ice it up.
It reduces inflammation, so surely it should reduce muscle soreness right? Yes and no.
If you’re an ‘untrained’ athlete it probably won’t make much difference, apart from causing shrinkage elsewhere(!) For trained athletes, however, it does make a difference, (again for high intensity multiple event sports and endurance events).
7- Lotions and Potions.
Ever tried tiger balm, deep heat or deep ice sprays? They are typically fairly safe and natural and when you rub them into a sore muscle they might give you some relief. Nutrition stores have plenty of overpriced tubs of powders to try which don’t work but apparently taking baking soda with water works on preventing muscle soreness which runners have used for decades but the side effects of using this buffer system can be quite dramatic (explosive diarrhoea anyone?) so be warned.
Finally, let me share the transcript of a voicemail message I got a few years ago from a very posh English client:
“Errr hello Sham…this is Edward.
Errr I can’t make it to our session today as there appears to a problem. The problem is I am unable to lift my arms.
They are swollen like balloons and I am sitting half naked using speaker phone….call me back.