I recently took some time off from the gym (a little too much time).
This week I made my triumphant return to the weight room.
Since it’s been a while, I knew that I could expect two things:
1. That I wasn’t going to be as strong as I used to be
2. I was going to be really sore this week.
This post is about that second topic.
DOMS- Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
So we’re all familiar with the expression “no pain, no gain,” right? Well, this is definitely true when talking about strength training. See, the only way to build muscle is to break it down so it can rebuild itself bigger and stronger. Weightlifting causes small, microscopic tears in the muscle tissue, which is what causes the pain (WebMD, 2015). The pain indicates that the muscles are rebuilding themselves to adapt to the new exercises they are being put through. This includes any exercise that the body is not used to, and is not limited to weightlifting (like running, sports, yoga, martial arts). Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “pain makes me grow. Growing is what I want. Therefore, for me, pain is pleasure.”
DOMS usually happens about a day or two following the workout, usually hurting the most two days later, and can last up to a week. This week, I worked chest & back on one day, arms on the next, and legs on the third day. On the third day, I was really feeling the soreness in my upper body (especially arms), and now while my upper body is still recovering, the soreness in my legs kicked in, so right now all the usually mundane tasks (like walking, standing, sitting, reaching) have become semi-difficult chores.
Experienced athletes know about soreness and even come to expect it following a very hard workout. DOMS doesn’t interfere with their training because getting back into it usually helps ease the pain. For someone brand new to fitness, this may come as a total shocker. Beginners who don’t know to expect pain or soreness after their first crossfit WOD, wake up a day or two later with screaming muscles and don’t know whether it’s normal or something serious-
“Did I sprain a muscle? Did I tear it? That’s a thing, right? Torn muscle. Oh God, I tore a muscle….! I flew too close to the sun. Mocking the Gods with how awesome my Clean-and-Presses were. Get me through this pain and I’ll never work out again!”
-unfortunately, some experience the pain, decide it’s not worth it, and quit. However, those that press on, learn to expect the pain, deal with it, and go on to reach their goals. (I think my brothers gave me the same pep talk about running ultramarathons. In fact, here’s the link to an article my brother wrote on Mental Hurdles Running 100 Miles)
Dealing with DOMS
So now we know that we can expect muscle soreness following a hard workout. Is there a way to minimize the soreness?
The answer is yes, and I think I can wrap it all up very briefly:
First, take more time to warm up. Maybe a quick pre-workout jog & stretch before hitting the weights, or a quick warm-up set of the exercise you’re about to go heavy on. Post-workout stretching and foam rolling also helps. Ice baths, especially after a hard run, definitely help.
But the main thing, the best way to deal with soreness, is to keep exercising.
If you exercise, get sore and take a break; you’re gonna be sore again when you come back.
If you take time off from the gym (like I did); you’re gonna be sore again when you come back.
Consistency is key. Keep exercising, and not only will the soreness not be as bad, you’ll be able to deal with it a lot easier. Eventually, you may feel the same way that Arnold feels about pain.
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