Is it just us that enjoys that DOMS feeling?!

DOMS – Delayed onset muscle soreness.

Love it or hate it, as CrossFitters we know all too well the feeling!

Today I want to chat a little about what DOMS is? Why we get it? Why, even when we’ve had a tough training day, do we sometimes not feel it? How can we make it go away?

Many believe that it’s a sign of a good workout – first things first, DO NOT be fooled by this. Just because you don’t have DOMS it doesn’t mean that your workout wasn’t beneficial. By the same token, it isn’t something that ought to be avoided at all costs for fear of having gone ‘too hard’.

As well-trained individuals, often DOMS only really becomes a problem when we have had a little break from training or try something new – something regular in the constantly varied type of training that we do here at GTF, but don’t let that put you off, DOMS, believe it or not, isn’t a bad thing!

The research around DOMS and what exactly it is, is still not entirely conclusive. It has been disproven that lactic acid is the predominant cause as once thought, in fact, a more common school of thought now is that eccentric movements (where muscles are holding tension but still lengthening – think the downward phase of a squat or a deadlift for example), despite causing less accumulation of lactic acid, cause more DOMS than perhaps their concentric or isometric counterparts.

DOMS is essentially bought about as a result of muscle damage (a pivotal part of us getting stronger) and rears its head between 8 and 48 hours post-session, creating soreness and stiffness, particularly if we haven’t kept moving - movement is medicine after all.

When muscles look to recover from a training stimulus there is a certain amount of inflammation that occurs around said muscles which is often accompanied by feelings of soreness – PLEASE DO NOT be tempted to whack down an ibuprofen to ease the DOMS, this inhibits the recovery process ultimately – we need that inflammation to get super strong! The soreness gives us feedback – don’t try to cover it up, also reducing that inflammatory response can inhibit recovery and therefore slow down the adaptations that we are after.

We know, from experience, that when we are back to feeling ‘normal’ when the recovery process from a workout is done, that doing the same thing again is likely to result in reduced soreness next time – this is something that is often called the ‘repeated bout effect’. If you use the principles of progressive overload on the same exercise, then yes, perhaps you will feel DOMS to the same intensity but doing the exact same thing again, as the recovery process has improved our work capacity in this area, our muscle fibres have gone through some sort of adaption and likely increased in strength, will not elicit the same pain. The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ applies here, if you avoid said stimulus that caused the soreness in the first place, it is likely that going back to it after some time will bring about that same soreness again. This is the reason why when people initially begin CrossFit or any sort of training, it is advisable that they (while not recommending going too hard too soon), probably do more than just one session a week!

DOMS are prevalent in CrossFit due to the varied nature of what we do from day to day, we are constantly using different muscle groups in different ways. This bring us onto why, perhaps, in the current situation we are in (COVID lockdown for those reading in the future) DOMS may seem worse than ever. Why, when we get under all the heavy weights day in and day out in the gym, are we feeling super sore from doing workouts purely with our body weight?

Remember those eccentric muscle contractions we spoke about earlier in the blog post? Well, the evidence tells us that doing these quicker (as is often the case with high-rep bodyweight workouts) causes a greater amount of muscle damage. We are also likely working within a greater range of movement here – to almost full range – almost stretching the muscles to their limit is likely to elicit more muscle damage and thus a greater repair and ultimately adaptation stimulus.

So, what can we do about it to save us from walking around like the tin man for the next 4 weeks of ‘lockdown’?

A very high level of soreness needs rest, however, moving in some other way is going to be beneficial – think different movement patterns to that which caused the initial DOMS. However, mild soreness is not going to prove much of a problem and shouldn’t result in complete rest – it is a positive sign that your body is adapting.

Static stretching may be beneficial to begin to ease some pain, however, the school of thought that stretching excessively post-workout will help to reduce the likelihood of DOMS isn’t entirely true – sure, it can help to improve a number of other things by stretching when muscles are warm, but not necessarily relieve DOMS.

The bottom line then – as always, build up gradually, don’t go all in with workouts with hundreds of reps each and every day and don’t rest for too long otherwise next time you do train you’ll feel that exact same pain all over again.

Embrace it – we are getting stronger team!

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