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The Fitness Zone

The Real Reason You Are Sore After The Gym And How To Speed Up Your Recovery
July 14, 2016 | by Chris Apps

Most exercise enthusiasts have heard of, or experienced ‘DOMS’ or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, but what is it exactly? Chris Apps, Massage Coach at the Australian Institute of Fitness Brisbane, shares the real reason behind your sore muscles, and his advice on how you can speed up your recovery so you can get back in the gym sooner.

DOMS In Simple Terms

That familiar experience after a hard workout, where you struggle to put on a shirt or walk up/down stairs after a day or two is called DOMS.  It is said to be a combination of lactic acid, inflammation, connective tissue damage and muscle spasm. Eccentric muscle loading is the main cause of DOMS, especially in unfamiliar exercises where the muscles aren’t used to the load or stress. Examples of this could be slowly lowering yourself down from a chin up bar or down to the bottom position of a push up. Depending on the person and the recovery strategy, or lack of, DOMS can last from two to five days before you can successfully operate stairs again.

Who Is Affected By DOMS?

DOMS impacts new exercise enthusiasts more so than experienced athletes due to the low adaptation to exercise. Most people have experienced this when they stop exercising for six months or so and then jump back into a hard workout.  

This onset of DOMS can make you feel like you have had a great workout, but it will reduce over the next couple of sessions. This isn’t necessarily due to poor performance, but to the body adapting to the workout, so if you were to change the workout to challenge your body in a new way, you will find that DOMS will return until it adapts again.

Typically if you are a highly motivated person you may want to push through the DOMS and continue training, but that can have a negative effect. Your body isn’t quite ready to perform so it can increase the risk of injury and overtraining symptoms. On the other hand you may see DOMS as a reason not to train for a week which can result in a reduction in flexibility and mobility, making it difficult to start again! Moral of the story, you should consider some active recovery. In between major workouts where you generally feel sore and fatigued, go for a walk, light jog or swim to keep the blood flowing, and joints moving. If you can’t lift as much in your workouts, or run as far as you would normally run, then you are unlikely to be fully recovered.


How Can Massage Influence DOMS?

Massage has been around for thousands of years and was used in ancient Olympics on athletes. In a sporting environment, massage can be applied before an event to warm up the athlete, during or in-between events to keep them warm and mobile or it can applied after an event to promote recovery.

There is little research supporting an increase in performance of athletes who have a massage before an event, however there is research showing that post-event massages can reduce the time needed to fully recover, so having a massage soon after a workout could be the difference between a little pain getting out of bed or needing assistance while dressing yourself. A recent study showed that people who had a massage shortly after their exercise helped reduce the feeling of DOMS by 30%. Massage can definitely decrease the severity and duration of DOMS, however once DOMS has set in, and you struggle to lift your drink bottle to your lips, massage and other recovery strategies aren’t as effective.


Recovery Advice 

- Stay hydrated; replace what you lost in body weight with the equivalent in litres of water after your session.

- Consult a dietitian for correct nutrition strategies for your particular situation.

- If you’re a beginner to exercise, ease yourself in slowly.

- Get a massage within two to five hours after a workout, rather than two days after when you’re already sore, but if you forget, a massage definitely won’t make it worse!

Can’t afford a massage after every workout? After your workout try foam roll, sitting in a sauna, stretching or go for a walk.

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of massage and how it can aid your training why not study our Remedial Massage Therapist course ? 


Chris is a Massage Coach at The Australian Institute of Fitness Brisbane

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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