Muscle soreness after exercise, otherwise known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), is a common complaint about exercise. Sore muscles, whether it’s your six pack or somewhere else, can affect everyone. From beginners, to the average amateur who works out 3 times a week, all the way up to professional athletes.
What Is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) can be felt within a few hours of exercise but is generally at its worst after about 48 hours. After this the pain will begin to ease but can take several days to go completely. Once experienced it can put many people off exercise for good, or at least prevent them from being able to train for more than a couple of times a week.
But there are some things that can be done to speed up recovery from delayed onset muscle soreness or even prevent it occurring in the first place.
Causes Of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness caused by exercise is exactly the same as muscle soreness caused by doing any physical activity you’re not used to. Whether this is cycling for the first time in years, digging the garden, exercising, or suddenly changing how you train your six pack.
The reason is that when muscles are worked hard they are actually, at a microscopic level, damaged by what are called micro-tears. These micro-tears obviously need repairing, and it is this damage and repair process that causes the inflammation that is delayed onset muscle soreness.
Each time muscles are worked hard they are repaired slightly stronger than they were to prevent further damage in the future. It is this process that causes muscles to adapt to how you train them, which in our case is to increase six pack definition and size.
So if it was starting to exercise that caused delayed onset muscle soreness you’ll get used to it, providing you keep it up, otherwise your body isn’t going to use the energy required to adapt your muscles to it, so you’ll be just as sore next time. But even if you’ve been training for years, if you suddenly change your abs routine or improve your technique to work your muscles properly for once, you could still wake up with ore muscles.
You might also find you have to roll out of bed for a couple of days instead of being able to sit up! If so you can at least comfort yourself with the knowledge that whatever you did yesterday obviously worked your muscles a lot harder than they’re used to.
Treatment Of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
If you do wake up to find your muscles have decided to teach you a lesson for working them so hard, and getting out of bed is a lot more unpleasant than normal is there anything you can do?
Well the good news is yes, there are a couple of things that can help reduce the pain. The bad news is that as the micro-tears in your muscles could technically be classed as an injury, like any other injury, healing takes time and cannot be rushed.
The best way to treat the pain of muscle soreness is to ‘warm up’ the muscles that need repairing and get plenty of blood to them with gentle exercise. Just be sure to keep the intensity light and the reps high. Your goal is not to work the muscle and make things worse, but to get blood flowing to the muscle to help repair it. Afterwards stretch the muscle gently, holding it for 30 seconds and then relaxing, which is then repeated 3 – 5 times.
As it’s inflammation of the ‘damaged’ muscle that causes the delayed onset muscle soreness, another thing you can do is take an anti-inflammatory and/or painkiller to help. I’m not a trained physician however, so whether or not this is suitable for you is your decision.
How To Prevent Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Much better than being unable or just unwilling to exercise due to muscle soreness is just not to have it in the first place. There are several things you can do to reduce the chance of getting it.
The first is to warm up and stretch before you exercise. Now you may have been told to do this before or read it somewhere else, but probably not what the purpose of it is which is why it usually gets forgotten. Generally people exercise after several hours of little or no activity, whether this is sitting at a desk, driving, or watching TV. Then with no warning to their bodies, they suddenly start jogging or lifting weights and wonder why they have muscle soreness the next day. Or even worse, get injured.
Instead, before you do a single sit up, spend 10 minutes warming up your whole body by jogging, cycling or doing some other aerobic exercise at an RPE of 5 or 50% effort. Then spend a few minutes stretching, then you can exercise properly.
Another bad habit is to finish exercising and then immediately return to no activity, leaving the body and muscles full of lactic acid and other waste products. Repeating the warm up routine, at this stage better known as a cool down or warm down, will help the body deal with these toxins and of course, help prevent muscle soreness.
If you’re new to exercise or returning after a long break, remember that your body needs time to adapt to it by strengthening your muscles and getting more efficient at dealing with the resulting toxins. But it will only do this if the exercise is regular – in other words at least 3 times a week, every week. Also, while I’m usually the last person to tell people not to train hard, until you and your body get used to exercise don’t push yourself too much. Increase your effort gradually over the first 6 weeks.
As I said earlier though, even a professional athlete can suffer from delayed onset muscle soreness if he trains intensely, so don’t be disheartened if you wake up a bit stiff the day after a workout. If you’re warming up and cooling down properly, stretching, and training regularly but still get muscle soreness, at least it shows you’re working hard!
If you have any questions or comments, leave a comment below.