If you’ve done a squat before I’m sure you know exactly what delayed onset muscle soreness is, often setting in a day or two after your workout and leaving your hobbling around, unable to climb stairs or clenching your pectoral insertion for days. Not fun.
Here’s a brief explanation of what is actually happening when you’re experiencing that soreness:
“These micro-tears allow calcium to escape from the muscles, disrupting their intracellular balance and causing further injury to the fibers.
Various proteins then interact with the free nerve endings surrounding the damaged fibers, resulting in localized pain and stiffness. Symptoms can be exacerbated by swelling within muscle fibers, which exerts pressure on sensory receptors (nociceptors) and thereby increases the sensation of pain (6).”
Now, let’s look at several quick techniques you can utilize post workout to combat delayed onset muscle soreness.
As you’ll soon see the majority of these techniques are focused on increasing blood flow in order to transport nutrients to the muscle.
Contrast showering is without a doubt my personal favourite technique for reducing DOMs. I alternate between relatively hot and cold temperatures in the shower for 6 minutes, switching the temperature of water from hot to cold each minute (so each contrast shower has 3 hot and 3 cold rounds).
The extreme changes in temperature from contrast showering induce vasodilation (expansion of blood vessels from hot water) and vasoconstriction (constriction of blood vessels from cold water).
Select and follow a warm-up/stretching routine pre and post workout. With so many stretches and routines out there I can’t recommend a definitive warm-up routine that I’d deem to be the best – I recommend you start with Joe DeFranco’s routine – it takes roughly five minutes and all you’ll neeed is yourself and a foam roller.
Check out my buddy David performing this warm-up routine here.
Foam roll/Trigger Point
As above, I only see benefits from foam roller. The days I don’t foam roll pre-workout I always find my range of motion and recovery times are noticeably affected – particularly on legs.
If you find yourself constantly hobbling around due to leg DOMs I recommend spending between thirty seconds and one minute focused on foam rolling your quads, hamstrings, ITB, calves and glutes.
If you don’t have a foam roller you can hone in on individual sore points with a tennis ball by following my guide on tennis ball trigger point therapy here.
Active recovery workout
It may seem counter intuitive to do MORE exercise when your muscles are that sore, but as mentioned previously in order to aid the recovery process of your muscles we need to increase blood flow to flush the nutrients to your muscles – sitting around and avoiding movement is the sure-fire way to ensure DOMs stay around longer – you need to remain active in your recovery.
A small active recovery workout to assist in overcoming leg DOMs would include bodyweight squats, bodyweight walking lunges and a small amount of time increasing blood flow via the means of cardio with either a stint on the exercise bike, cross trainer or treadmill.
Staying hydrated is key. I am to drink 4 litres of water per day, minimum.
Without sufficient hydration you’ll run into muscle cramps and will be hindering your recovery – even if you’re following a bunch of the other techniques I’ve listed.
Check your caloric intake
Bodybuilding comes down to supply and demand. In the gym you create the demand for your body to grow and transform itself by lifting heavy weights – this is the first half of the equation. The second and often neglected half of the equation is the supply. You need to supply your body with adequate nutrition (calories/macronutrient breakdown) in order to repair itself. If you’re in a severe calorie deficit (i.e. consuming fewer calories on a 24 hour basis than your body needs to maintain its current condition) it comes as no surprise that you’re constantly getting DOMs and that you’re unable to increase the speed of recovery.
If you don’t know how many calories you’re currently eating (or should be eating) follow my guide here and eliminate any guesswork.
Deep tissue massage
If foam rolling isn’t your cup of tea, or if you’ve got spare money to spend I recommend giving a sports or deep tissue massage a try. If you’re going for a massage primarily to reduce DOMs I recommend ensuring your massage is within 24~ hours of your workout, as otherwise I have not found them to be as affective.