So, here’s how it goes right? You’re finally back to the gym after months of training at home, and you just can’t help hitting that big weights session! At the time you feel pretty good, and you don’t feel like you’ve lost too much in the way of strength, and then you wake up the following day…!
Everyone who’s ever lifted weights knows the feeling; it’s the day after the big strength workout and even things like walking down the stairs or putting your socks on make you grimace. This phenomenon is known as delayed-onset muscle soreness - or DOMS - as most will refer to it. In simple terms, exercising causes microscopic tears in muscle fibres, the reparation of which is what causes muscle growth. DOMS are caused by inflammation around the sites of these tears whilst they are repaired - this elicits the familiar feelings of stiffness and soreness following exercise. Whilst it is not possible to prevent DOMS entirely, here are a few interesting methods that have been shown to effectively reduce the symptoms.
If you follow any of your favourite athletes on social media – you may have seen them posting pictures of their legs in bulky balloon-like casings, this is because they are using compression therapy in their recovery. Recent research has shown that the use of compression garments post-exercise, for up to 96hrs, can improve muscle recovery and alleviate symptoms of DOMS , a finding which is supported by a 2017 meta-analysis from Brown et al .
The theory behind these effects are based on augmenting muscle blood-flow following exercise (when the blood flow would normally decrease), allowing for better removal of exercise by-products and resupplying of oxygen and glycogen to fatigued muscles . Unfortunately, there is not yet a clear consensus on time, type or tightness required for compression therapy so it comes down to the personal preferences of the individual . However, as a relatively cheap and accessible strategy, it is probably worth giving it a go! The image above shows leading products from https://hyperice.com/normatec.
AKA the good old-fashioned ice bath! This strategy has been in use for decades, so you’d be forgiven for thinking it was more of a myth than an evidence-based recovery protocol. Nevertheless, research has shown that immersion in cold water (below 15°C ) following exercise improves biomarkers of muscle damage, sensations of pain and overall muscle recovery  and therefore, unsurprisingly, this strategy is adopted by sport scientists and athletes worldwide. Also popularised in recent years by the https://www.wimhofmethod.com/.
The cold temperatures in which the immersion occurs elicits peripheral vasoconstriction (shrinking and narrowing of the blood vessels) which subsequently reduces inflammation and swelling at the site of muscle damage . A systematic review of cold-water immersion research concluded that the optimal immersion time is between 11-15 minutes  – if you can last that long…
Again, this strategy is cheap, simple and easily accessible and as such, is worth a try – just make sure you put your towel on the radiator for afterwards!
Good news for fans of self-myofascial relief: it gets the thumbs up for treating DOMS.
While your muscle fibres are repairing themselves after a workout, they can often become knotted, reducing muscle elasticity and causing soreness and stiffness. Foam rolling, massage and active stretching can help alleviate the discomfort of DOMS.
Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) stretching technique that is effective and simple to do and delivers positive, feel good results. Foam rollers have become easily accessible, either shared at the gym or found in almost any sporting goods aisle to bring home for a minimal investment. Using the foam roller can deliver improvements in flexibility, muscle recovery, movement efficiency, inhibiting overactive muscles, and pain reduction with just minutes of application
Here’s a handy guide to some of the main foam rolling exercises from our friends at Trigger Point https://www.tptherapy.com.hk/en/how-to-videos/grid-foam-roller-video
Lots of foods are reported to have DOMS-curing properties, but there are three main types to look out for.
It’s important to eat and stay hydrated after a workout, as the nutrients and protein help your muscles recover:
1. Carbohydrates - produce insulin, which is a hormone that drives muscle growth in your body. It also helps replace muscle and liver glycogen which helps refuel your energy supplies and helps the body in the recovery process.
2. Protein - is a nutrient that is essential for the growth, maintenance and repair of muscles and body tissue. After a workout, protein helps repair the muscle fibres that were broken down during the exercise, which helps reduce soreness and recovery time.
3. Antioxidants - foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries and cherries, help reduce inflammation and therefore soreness – and they count as one of your five a day.”
So, don’t suffer in silence! Try some of these techniques to recover faster and ease the DOMS.
1.Hettchen, M., et al., Effects of Compression Tights on Recovery Parameters after Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Randomized Controlled Crossover Study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2019. 2019: p. 5698460.
2.Brown, F., et al., Compression Garments and Recovery from Exercise: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Med, 2017. 47(11): p. 2245-2267.
3.Hamlin, M.J., et al., Effect of compression garments on short-term recovery of repeated sprint and 3-km running performance in rugby union players. J Strength Cond Res, 2012. 26(11): p. 2975-82.
4.Heiss, R., et al., Advances in Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) - Part II: Treatment and Prevention. Sportverletz Sportschaden, 2019. 33(1): p. 21-29.
5.Bleakley, C., et al., Cold-water immersion (cryotherapy) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2012(2): p. CD008262.
6.Hohenauer, E., et al., The Effect of Post-Exercise Cryotherapy on Recovery Characteristics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One, 2015. 10(9): p. e0139028.
7.Gregson, W., et al., Influence of cold water immersion on limb and cutaneous blood flow at rest. Am J Sports Med, 2011. 39(6): p. 1316-23.
8.Machado, A.F., et al., Can Water Temperature and Immersion Time Influence the Effect of Cold Water Immersion on Muscle Soreness? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med, 2016. 46(4): p. 503-14.