Delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS) comes part and parcel with training – especially when you start a new exercise routine. It’s thought to be caused by microscopic tears in muscle tissue (as a normal result of exertion), which lead to inflammation. Contrary to popular belief, lactic acid build up is not the cause, since DOMS usually kicks in around 24-72 hours after your session – not instantaneously.
DOMS is an odd experience, really – it can almost be described as a good pain (if ever there were such a thing). It serves as a little reminder that you smashed your workout, and that you’re making progress; a ‘no pain, no gain’ type-mentality. However, it’s important to strike a balance between normal, expected DOMS and potential injury. Whilst it’s good to continuously raise the benchmark, overdoing things can undo your hard work.
So, how do you know you’re hitting the sweet spot? Generally, DOMS becomes less severe after a few weeks into your training. You’ll still feel that ouch sensation; you might even pace around like John Wayne on certain days of the week (!). If you need the aid of crutches just to walk a few steps, though, you might want to re-evaluate things. Of course, as you up your game – say, you’re lifting heavier weights, or you’re chopping and changing your routine, you can expect an increase in DOMS.
There are natural things you can do to help manage DOMS and keep you performing at your best… whilst maintaining that subtle measure of reassuring pain! Proper nutrition is paramount to muscle recovery, as are rest days. This is also why it’s good to train different muscle groups – and warm up/cool down properly, which can help to reduce damage to muscle tissue.
Something else that can be tremendously beneficial is massage. This can help to increase blood circulation, bringing nutrient-rich blood to muscles. It can reduce inflammation, help to ‘loosen’ tight muscles, and make you feel invigorated or relaxed – whatever your pressing requirement. If aromatherapy oils are used, all the better, since these have properties that can aid physical and mental well-being, and compliment the overall treatment.
Gents in the room: if the thought of this makes you cringe, just hear me out! If you deem massage as ever-so-slightly feminine, and worry that it will somehow ‘damage your masculinity’, think again. The therapeutic benefits of massage are recognised by athletes and health professionals alike; in one form or another, it’s been practiced for centuries.
If you have the time and money to spare (even on occasion), I’d highly recommend going to a reputable, qualified massage therapist. Of course, there are several types of massage; above, I’m largely referring to the classic, Swedish variety. However, if you’re feeling a little more hardcore, there’s always deep tissue or sports massage (sometimes referred to as ‘remedial massage’) for you to try. Having experienced this myself, I’d say it feels less like a massage… and more like your soul’s being forced out of your body at the hands of another. A pampering session this is NOT, but WOW – it’s certainly effective. Once you’re over the trauma (give it a day or so – and yes, I’m a wimp), you feel like your muscles have been pumped with air! It’s great for localised sports injuries, too, and can really help to strengthen the area.
If the above doesn’t tickle your fancy, why not DIY? Invest in a good quality massage product with essential oils like rosemary, lavender and cinnamon. These can help to soothe muscles and increase blood circulation; rosemary and cinnamon have a notable, warming effect. You could also try a muscle balm/rub, which creates a wonderfully cool-but-warm, tingling sensation. Apply such a product topically to help bring instant, lasting relief.
Remember: DOMS can be a sign that you’re working to an appropriate level, and that you’re on track to reaching your goals. Keep pushing those boundaries, but just listen to your body in the process; take good care of your health, and don’t be afraid to try something new!