Muscle Soreness: What’s Happening and How to Prevent it

If you’re new to fitness or haven’t been to the gym for quite some time, you may have forgotten about the soreness associated with lifting weights or unaccustomed physical activity in general. That soreness is referred to as DOMSs or delayed-onset muscle soreness.

To better understand DOMs and what happens to cause them, we have to talk about the body for a second. When we workout, we are placings stress on our body. For example we can stress our cardio vascular system by getting on the treadmill or we can stress our muscle tissue by lifting weights. Over time our bodies adapt to those stresses; we can run longer on the treadmill or we can lift more weight. GAINS! Those gains come with muscle soreness aka DOMs.

An analogy that I think helps show what happens to muscles and the following soreness when we lift weights is a rope. A rope is made by combining lots of individual fiber strands together. The more strands you have the bigger the rope and the stronger it is. This is very similar to how your muscles are made up. A strand of muscle is made of tiny smaller strands. When we lift, we stress the muscle fibers and cause those smaller strands to rip. The DOMs that follow are from literally ripping our muscle tissue.

The beautiful thing is that our bodies rebuild those damaged fibers and add new fibers, so that when we go to lift that same amount of weight we can lift it easier and add more weight. GAINS!

Now that you have an understanding of what DOMs are, how do we eliminate them? The short answer is, you can’t. If you want your body to change (regardless of the reason why) you will have to damaged some muscle tissue. However, you may be able to reduce DOMs.

Have you ever noticed that when you work on a particular muscle, by the end of the workout, that muscle is a little bigger? No, your body didn’t repair muscle tissue that quick. You are not a member of the X-Men. That muscle is “bigger” because your body recognizes the work you’re doing and increases blood flow to that area to provide the working muscles with oxygen and remove cellular waste. Damaged tissue needs blood flow to repair and rebuild.

So how do we get more blood flow and ease DOMs? Here are a couple of ways:

1) Foam rolling after your workout. Foam rolling should really be done pre-workout and post workout. Foam rolling helps eliminate knots in muscle tissue and increases blood flow. It’s a very cheap alternative to a massage. However, if you’re a baller and want to treat yo self after every workout, then by all means get a massage.

2) Have a post workout meal. Being a trainer, I’m surprised by how many people skip meals. Don’t do that! To repair muscles after an intense bout of exercise, your body needs protein. I recommend plant based protein (see my first post for a glimpse as to why).

3) Take a hot Epsom salt bath. Your body absorbs the magnesium and can help reduce muscle soreness. The hot water also increases blood flow.

4) Similarly, a stint in a sauna or steam room will also increase blood flow. Side note: don’t pour water on the heating unit in a sauna. Saunas are hot and dry, a steam room has moisture from the steam. That may seem like common sense, but you’d be amazed.

5) Low intensity cardio like a light jog. The key is to get our blood flowing. If we improve our cardio vascular system, our bodies will be better at transporting blood throughout our body.

6) Lastly, if you’re new to working out or getting back into it, start slower and progress gradually. We tend to let perfectionism tell us that we need to lift as much as the guy with half a shirt on next to us is lifting, and if we can’t do that right out the gate, we should give up.

DOMs are the body’s way of telling us, we destroyed muscle tissue. They’re an indicator that we’ve done a great job in the weight room. Although our body is telling us we’ve done well, we can control the pain to an extent. If you’re never sore after working out, you’re not challenging yourself enough. 😉

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