Following an exercise regimen, you may be feeling a little bit sore the whole week afterward, especially if you’ve gotten a little aggressive with the training and pushed yourself beyond your limits. You’re starting to develop delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) 12-24 hours after you exercise, with the greatest discomfort being felt between 24-72 hours post-exercise. It’s painful, yet you couldn’t help but still engage in any fitness program because you’re aware of the enormous amount of benefits you could get from being fit. Understanding DOMS and knowing the basics of recovery allow you to follow a proper recovery routine, making every drop of sweat worthwhile every time you step out of the gym.
Warming up helps prepare your body for intense training. A good warm-up before a workout raises your body’s core and muscle temperature by opening up your blood vessels, ensuring that your body is well supplied with a sufficient amount of oxygen and nutrients. It revs up your cardiovascular system by slowly raising your heart rate so that your heart won’t get too strained during your workout. Also, getting prepped with warming up will improve your flexibility, reducing your risk for injury.
Many forms of warm-up exercises are available for us to try, such as aerobics, static stretches, and dynamic stretches that make use of some sport-specific movement patterns. While static stretching is good for those who engage in sports or any training that requires a lot of flexibility, dynamic stretching is more appropriate when sports-specific movements are needed to loosen up the associated joints to improve range of motion. It is generally advised to include dynamic stretching based on sports-specific requirements after a few minutes of aerobics.
As important as the warming up is the cooling down. Cooling down slowly calms down the body from heightened cardiovascular, neuromuscular, and metabolic systems. Cooldown reduces the risk of injuries and the effects of DOMS and improves muscle recovery. The key principles to consider include reducing the heart rate, easing out the joints, and releasing muscular tension. After strenuous activity, the heart rate gradually returns to the normal level, redistributing the blood back to the vital organs and gradually flushes out the excessive build-up of lactic acid. Also, synovial fluids are redistributed back into the joints for lubrication, so that stretching after exercises will be smooth and comfortable, joint aches are unlikely. Further, built-up tension in muscles is released back to the resting length. Proper cool down assists the body with its repair process.
Sleep is a powerful tool for preventing DOMS and for muscle building. Sleep is a regenerative process that allows the body to repair and rebuild itself following a strenuous workout through the release of the Human Growth Hormone during the deep phase of sleep. Sleep deprivation makes the symptoms of DOMS worse, muscle pain in particular. Practicing a good sleep routine won’t only help with DOMS but will also aid in gaining improved muscle performance, improving mental function, enhancing the immune system, and releasing stress.
Although research studies haven’t really established a link between hydration and alleviation of DOMS symptoms, or an association between dehydration and worsening DOMS, it’s quite practical to keep ourselves hydrated when we engage in strenuous physical activities. Dehydration is a frequent problem in active individuals because many people don’t place much importance on hydration. Although it may not ward off DOMS, it can really help you avoid feeling too tired and excessively fatigued.
Massage, in general, provides positive effects on DOMS. Many studies have demonstrated that one session of 10-minute massage 2 to 4 hours following exercise may reduce swelling associated with DOMS. In another study, a massage applied after exercise and before the onset of DOMS can alleviate the symptoms of soreness. All of these positive outcomes are attributable to increased blood and lymph flow.
Wearing compression gears after exercise can help reduce DOMS and accelerate recovery. Compression provides the body with external pressure, enhancing circulation around the injured muscles. Also, it provides significant relief of muscle pain and aids in the resolution of swelling and heaviness.
Moving your sore muscles and performing gentle, light exercises can be some of the most effective ways you can do to decrease DOMS symptoms. It can be very painful at first, but it will start to feel better once blood keeps flowing into your worked-out muscles. Gentle stretching can loosen up the tightness you feel and can ease up the pain from DOMS. Active recovery has been practiced by many sports and fitness enthusiasts and is a scientifically proven way to recover pre-training levels of function and performance.