We're wrapping up the six-part series on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness this week and one last time I would like to give a big shout-out to The Fitness Nerd for researching this topic so thoroughly.
If you haven't been following the entire series, I hope you'll take the time to revisit the previous postings on DOMS via the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V. It truly is a worthwhile read.
Can I Still Workout With Sore Muscles?
While allowing your muscles time to rest and recover after training is critical, there appears to be very little evidence that workout out when your muscles are still sore will cause additional damage or impede strength or muscle gains.
In fact, many people report anecdotal improvements in symptoms of DOMS after performing additional bouts of exercise in subsequent days. While it's generally advisable to give yourself at least 48 hour rest and recovery time before exercising again, performing lower-intensity exercise with the affected muscles can sometimes lessen stiffness, even 24 hours later.
Research seems to support this.
A 2000 study published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that light exercise following bouts of heavier eccentric exercise resulted in better strength recovery, compared to when the exerciser only rested. In this case the light exercise was performed 90 minutes after the initial bout of exercise, so it is different than performing light exercise the next day. However, the results are encouraging and if you are able to perform lower-intensity exercise within 24 - 48 hours of developing symptoms of muscle soreness, you may want to try it.
The Take-Away: Practical Advice for Treating Your DOMS
I've discussed a lot of clinical research and physiology here because it's important to understand that there is no "silver bullet" when it comes to treating and preventing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
Even much of the research is contradictory and, for every study showing something works, you can typically find another study to refute it. And because scientific research is an ongoing process, there are all kinds of interesting therapies and treatments that just haven't been given much attention.
So, if there are no "silver bullets" what's the average exerciser to do? After all, this is supposed to be about providing some practical fitness and training advice that you can take to the gym.
The best approach to preventing and treating DOMS is to take a multi-faceted, holistic-approach. You may want to experiment with including one or more of the following tactics into your training routine to help promote recovery and minimize serious post-exercise muscle soreness. They include:
Providing yourself with good nutrition pre-and-post workout, including plenty of protein, complex carbs and some healthy fats which all support muscle recovery and growth.
Including plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet, which are naturally high in antioxidants. Supplementing with a multi-vitamin, Vitamins E and C and including other sources of antioxidants (e.g., Green Tea) may help.
Performing warm-up set prior to your main, higher intensity sets. This is generally a good practice just to prevent muscle pulls and strains, but it may also reduce the severity of DOMS as well.
If you do develop DOMS, consider trying an "active rest" approach to recovery by performing light exercise the following day - provided you can do this without too much discomfort.
If you feel that you've had a particularly intense training session or run, consider ice baths or immersion of the trained muscles in cold water to aid in healing and reduce inflammation and stiffness. Try to do these for 15 minutes, every 12 hours for the first 24 hours after exercise. Many runners report good results with this approach after particularly grueling runs like marathons.
While compression wear is sometimes impractical for certain muscle groups (for example, the chest) there are compression sleeves available that you can use for things like the calves, which are particularly prone to DOMS and can make walking a real pain. Combining this with cold water therapy may be even more effective.
If you can, consider skipping the NSAIDs. They don't seem to be particularly effective at reducing the symptoms of DOMS and may actually interfere with muscle recovery and growth. Instead, consider supplementing regularly with fish oil capsules, which have been demonstrated to reduce inflammation and have added benefits for your heart and brain. While I have not found any research that looks directly at whether fish oil is an effective treatment for DOMS, there is plenty of research that shows it can be as effective as NSAIDS in treating inflammation, so you may find that it helps.
Consider massage. While massage has not been shown to be particularly effective at reducing longer-duration symptoms of DOMS, many people do find that it provides at least temporary relief from muscle soreness and stiffness, and is pleasant and relaxing.