Trainer Talk: Why do our muscles ache?
Updated: Jun 11
What is it? What causes it? And is it normal?
FIRSTLY, WHAT IS IT?
DOMS is short for delayed onset of muscle soreness. It is the soreness that you feel after a heavy training session and can cause significant muscle aches, especially with things like sitting down or going downstairs. It typically would last anywhere from 24 - 48 hours post-training.
It can be caused by multiple types of training such as weight lifting, cardiovascular or even sports specific. You’ll feel more DOMS after having done something which your muscles are not used to, whether that’s lifting more weight, more reps or sets, running further or faster or just doing something completely new and different.
Think about the first time you’ve done a new sport, activity or particular movement.. that’s always going to bring the most DOMS. Once your muscles are used to it, they don’t hurt as much or for as long! So it’s not necessarily all about “no pain, no gain”!
HOW DO I KNOW THAT THE PAIN IS DOMS?
Any type of high-intensity training will cause microscopic tears in the muscle fibres. Your body will respond to this by increasing inflammation in the affected area. This in turn will mean your muscle will feel tender and quite sore to touch. You may also notice a limited range of movement compared to normal as well as some stiffness. If you are experiencing these types of symptoms then you likely have DOMS. Although, it is worth noting that this is normal and you should only experience this for 1-3 days depending on a few factors such as recovery, nutrition, training intensity etc.
As Personal Trainers, we hear from our newer clients that they’ve been aching a lot and whether or not that’s normal.. we get mixed reviews when we say it’s completely normal, down to the fact it can be a bit unpleasant at times. DOMS is even like a badge of honour to some!
WHAT ACTUALLY CAUSES IT?
Let's say you are performing a bicep curl. When you curl the weight upwards towards the shoulder this is known as the concentric phase when your muscle contracts. When you lower the weight back down, this is the eccentric phase where the muscle is allowed to lengthen back to its starting position.
With that in mind, eccentric movements are usually what causes DOMS. It causes your body to tense the muscle as you lengthen it. The bicep curl is a good example of this. Although, another example may be the way you feel your quad tense up when you are running downhill.
WAYS TO HELP WITH SORENESS?
You may think that being sore should mean that it would be a good idea for you to completely rest the affected area, right? Well actually, unless the pain is extremely severe you should try and keep moving the area otherwise you may find you actually allow the muscle to stiffen even more which will make it more painful than it originally was.
For example, if you had a heavy leg session and you are experiencing a rather bad case of DOMS, another leg session may potentially be off the cards. But, a light walk will likely help with soreness, keeping the legs moving, and blood flowing to reduce the duration of the DOMS.
CAN I TAKE ANYTHING FOR FASTER RECOVERY?
You may think it is a good idea to get some anti-inflammatory meds or balms to assist with the soreness. Although this is not the worst idea, it doesn't do an awful lot to help with the pain of DOMS.
It really does come down to rest and recovery. So ensuring you get adequate sleep, good nutrition, water intake and time between sessions will allow for optimal recovery and to experience less severe bouts of DOMS.
Some remedies that are known to help though that you can try are shown below:
Stretching- This will help reduce muscular tension and increase blood flow to the affected areas!
Cold Therapy- Read up on our blog post to find out why cryo is so popular right now! (Try Brighton & Hove’s only cryotherapy clinic)
Hot Bath or Shower (If cold is a bit too much, hot can help too)- Hot baths or saunas work by increasing blood flow and loosening off the muscles.
Deep Tissue / Sports Massage- This manual deep tissue work is really beneficial for blood flow and myofascial release, resulting in less pain in less time.
Massage Gun- Again, similar concept to the massage but just done using a particular tool. Read up on our blog post all about Percussive therapy.
Muscle-specific Sprays / Balms
Next time you find yourself experiencing DOMS, be sure to take a look at your training schedule, recovery, food/water, sleep etc. and see if there is anything you can better optimise so that you aren't sore all of the time between sessions!
And as a final note, it's important to remember DOMS is part and parcel of working out with or without a Personal Trainer! If you're wanting to reduce its severity, just apply some of our top tips!
If you'd like to learn more about how you can use resistance training to help get you back into shape or back up to strength, come and find us in our Hove Studio on Shoreham Port!
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Portside Personal Training
Unit 13 Hove Enterprise Centre,
Basin Road North, Portslade,
Brighton BN41 1UY