Don’t Get Downed by DOMS!

As I mentioned in last Monday’s post, I completed the Mud Ninja race a couple weeks ago and had a blast.  But, that doesn’t mean that everything was hunky dory.  As I also mentioned, I wasn’t in great shape for it and though I finished, it was a tough one.  Lots of hills, lots of ups and down, and plenty of tough obstacles.

It was really no wonder at all that I was sore the next day.  Here’s the thing, though.  I was sore for the next 2-3 days. I was feeling it in my upper body primarily – where most of the really tough effort was hitting me.  My legs were not awful, but my shoulders and arms were very sore.  You know how when you first start doing bicep exercises after a long lay-off, maybe you push a little too hard, and you have trouble extending your arms out straight for a couple days?  Yeah, that’s what happened to me – only also with my shoulders and upper back muscles.  I was a hurtin’ unit.

The phenomenon that I was feeling is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS.  It’s got quite a few different hypotheses about what really causes it.  It’s not lactic acid, as some people think.  Lactic acid is the acid that gets into your muscles while you’re working out and causes “the burn” (as in the old and rather incorrect adage of “no pain, no gain.”).  But after you finish your workout, it goes away in about an hour or so.

No, DOMS is that next-day pain – or even next 3-4 days at the worst.  It’s the pain that makes it tough to get out of bed the day after you start running again, or in my case the pain that made it tough to raise my arms too high for a day.  It’s not an injury, as some people think.  If you’ve ever been injured, as in a muscle strain or sprain or something, that feels significantly different.  I won’t be so bold as to say that it’s better, because it’s sort of an indication that you did indeed, overdo something, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s uncomfortable for a bit and then you return to normal.

But there are some ways to fight it, for sure.  And there are some great ways to make sure it’s avoided.

One of the things that I try to get across on a regular basis is the idea of how regular, natural activity and movement is the best way to keep your body fit and healthy.  Well, that goes double for avoiding DOMS.

Part of the reason it last as long as it did for me was what I described in last Thursday’s post on the software training I was undergoing that week after Mud Ninja.  I was sitting for eight hours a day for four days.

Helping my son in Mud Ninja.

Avoiding being sedentary after a hard effort is one great way to avoid DOMS!

But part of the reason it wasn’t worse, I think, was what I did after I finished the race.  I didn’t stop moving.  I walked a lot – kept on my feet and didn’t let myself stiffen up at all.  And I helped my son go through the Little Mud Ninja race – the quarter mile kids’ version of the Mud Ninja that he’s done each year that they’ve held the race.  I didn’t have to climb or anything with him, but I did have to comfort him and hold his hand at times as we made our way through the course.  All that activity right after my race was an excellent “cool-down” routine – I was still active in a fairly full body way, but at a lesser intensity by a long shot.

The other thing I did as part of my son’s race was to get back into the mud with him as he went through it.  And that helped to keep me cooled off.  Another great way to avoid DOMS is cold water and such.  The on-site cold-water showers that were provided helped with that aspect as well.

And I did my best to keep a healthy, non-inflammatory diet of mineral-rich foods, nuts, some veggies, and some healthy fats (like mineral water with some peppermint essential oil in it, and a Steve’s PaleoKit or two).

I also started my 2-3 mornings with DOMS with some light stretching exercises – stuff like Hindu Pushups, bridging, and that sort of thing.  Something that would push me a little bit, but mostly just loosen up those sore muscles and help them get some blood running through them and clearing out some of the soreness.  And perhaps doing them a few times throughout the day isn’t a bad idea either.  Don’t try to work hard through DOMS and do your normal workout.  Your body is asking for some rest at this point and is trying to recover.  Move well, completely, and slowly.

In the past, I’ve also dealt with DOMS with sauna trips combined with a dip in the pool in sets.  Say, 15 minutes in a sauna and a quick dip in a pool or a cold shower.  It sounds awful, and to be frank it is, but you do get used to it. And it does reduce your down time.

I think it’s important that we don’t consider DOMS a negative situation.  Yeah, it means you probably overdid it a bit, or (if you ran an obstacle race) possibly a lot. But it is also a good sign that you did something you needed to do.  When you ARE in shape, but you change up your workout a bit and you feel it in a new muscle group for a couple days, that should tell you that you needed to work that muscle because your routine had ignored it.

It is also very important that if DOMS lasts more than four days… it’s probably not DOMS – you probably have an injury of some kind.  If you’ve never had a muscle strain or sprain or anything like that, it might be hard to tell.  It was for me the first time it happened that way. I had DOMS for a couple of days, and then my ankle wasn’t feeling better after it was done and it turned out I’d sprained it.

How do you fight DOMS? What do you do to avoid it and/or deal with it after it comes?  Share in the comments below!  And please share this article on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere!