Aching like hell after training?

A few weeks ago I wrote a bit on Recovery Strategies (click here).  That article was geared more towards those who train harder and more regularly than your average punter. But it is the new year now, and millions of people have made the resolution to get fit and join up with gyms/exercise classes.  So this article is aimed more at that crowd…exercise virgins, if you like!

Walking like John Wayne

Walking like John Wayne

So what I am going to cover is the aches and stiffness that you feel in your muscles a day or 2 after your training.  It is really annoying, because you probably didn’t feel any aches or pains during the training itself, or even for the rest of the day.  But you wake up next morning and you feel bits of you that you never knew existed, you feel tight/stiff as hell and you end up walking like John Wayne. Welcome to the world of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, for short.

What causes DOMS?

Science does not know the precise causes of DOMS.  A hundred years ago, it was thought that the build up of lactic acid in the muscles were responsable.  But it is now known that it does not, but this urban myth is still going strong. While we don’t know the precise cause of DOMS, we do know that you are almost certainly going to feel it:

  • After a new exercise.
  • After a new variation in an exercise.
  • After an increase in the intensity of exercise.
  • After eccentric exercise (controlling the descent of something, eg landing after a jump, running downhill, lowering weights etc).

Because exercise virgins face new exercises, new variations of exercise and an increase in their activity levels, they are especially susceptible to feeling DOMS.  But it is not just exercise virgins who suffer from it.  People who train regularly will probably get hit by it, when they change their training programme, increase the intensity or if they take a break and start training again. For example, I spent most of this Christmas sitting on my arse watching episodes of Columbo.  I only took about a week and a half off, but then I took a couple of basic circuit sessions, and my butt was still sore 2 days later! The good news though, is that our bodies adapt and get used to things very quickly.  Over the years I have trained hundreds of people.  And while lots have ached after the first session, only a very small fraction of these people have ached after the second go.  And so far (touch wood) no one has ached after the third session.

How to cure DOMS?

As yet, there is no “cure”.  Many people think that stretching after exercise prevents DOMS.  This has been shown many times not to be the case.  In fact, I was chatting to a lovely lady in the gym the other week who was stretching “so she didn’t ache tomorrow”. She was such a nice lady that I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she was doing all the right things, but for all the wrong reasons (and her workout was good and effective…just not for the reasons she thought). Probably the best strategy is to prevent DOMS.  And here is a tried and trusted way of doing that:

  • Change/increase things gradually.  Give your body a couple of sessions to get used to new things.
  • Maintain your training frequency, so you are not always “re-starting”.
  • Every couple of weeks, deliberately include some things that have made you ache in the past.  This will help keep your body “inoculated” against DOMS.

But if I don’t ache after training, doesn’t that mean I’m not improving/training properly?

Lots of people like the aching feeling after training, because it makes them think they have “done” something.  And I have been guilty of this myself.  But now I see DOMS as a thing to avoid whenever possible.  For me, it shows that I have pushed my trainee too much and too soon, and I need to improve my training programming.  I think this because:

  • If the trainee does not like it, they might not trust me next time.  Worst of all, they may not want to even execise again!
  • The trainee does like it, but comes to the next training session stiff, sore and unable to train properly, leading to a wasted session.

And finally, DOMS is not a measure of how well you have trained.  So don’t think you are the greatest because you ache, and don’t beat yourself up because you don’t ache. The only way to measure how well you are training, is:

  • You are not getting injured.
  • You are getting faster/stronger/fitter/leaner etc.

If you have learned anything from this article, please help me spread the word by sharing it using the buttons below. And if you live in/around Skipton, North Yorkshire, and need a coach, contact me by clicking here.