Probably one of the biggest topics for discussion after a hard or long workout is how stiff and sore clients are over the following few days. So I thought I’d just summarise the best methods of recovery. Many experienced athletes will have their own views on this and it depends to some extent on personal preference. This is intended more as a guide for novice exercisers.
DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) normally occurs anything from 24-72 hours after hard sessions where muscles are being used that haven’t been properly used for a while or after long endurance efforts where the muscles have been used for much longer periods than normally. There is still some doubt about what causes it but it may well be due to microscopic damage to the muscle cell. Don’t be alarmed! This low level damage is actually a necessary and desirable process because the body then repairs itself and adapts and improves so that it can cope more easily with this kind of punishment next time around should it be necessary. Look upon it as part of the evolutionary process by which we become better adapted to our environment. It is NOT caused by an accumulation of lactic acid as studies have shown that this is dispersed within one hour of training.
So what can we do to help alleviate the soreness of DOMS? Ironically perhaps the best way is to continue to use the sore muscles because the body produces its own pain killers to make the discomfort more tolerable. The worst thing you can do is to not use those muscles at all because it will take much longer to recover. Low intensity aerobic exercise is best – a gentle walk or light jog, a leisurely swim etc. all speed up the recovery process. As a long distance triathlete and ultra runner, I find that I can run, bike or swim for periods of many hours without really experiencing any kind of stiffness or soreness in the following days, simply because I mix up the high intensity training with a large dose of low intensity recovery work. I can easily train for up to around 20 hours a week in this way, which gives me a fantastic aerobic base, although it is important to take the odd day of almost complete rest to prevent eventual fatigue. The only time I really suffer with DOMS is if I do circuit training or some other exercise that uses different muscle groups.
Other effective methods of promoting recovery are massage, proper nutrition and hydration, including plenty of water, hot baths (anything to promote blood flow to the affected muscles helps). Unproven methods include ice baths (although many elite athletes use them), static stretching etc.
However, the good news is that DOMS is actually proof that you worked hard enough to achieve adaptation. With proper rest and recovery, which depends on the individual also, you will bounce back a little stronger next time, and, if you continue to overload these muscles gradually over time, they will become a lot more efficient.
I hope that my boot campers will be encouraged by this thought.