By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM
Fall is in the air. The air is crisp and the kids are back in school. What a great time to start a home fitness program! If you've been increasing the intensity on your fitness equipment or trying a completely new activity, you've probably been introduced to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), the extreme fatigue and ache that sets in a day or so after your workout and usually lasts for about 48 hours. How do you cope?
First off, the good news, a bit of DOMS means that you're doing something right. When we exercise in a new way or at a greater intensity, we cause microscopic tears in the muscles used. Although these tears heal, we feel inflammation, increased blood flow and overall achiness in the affected muscles. That soreness you feel means that you're actually getting stronger and your fitness is increasing. While some soreness is nearly unavoidable, there are things you can do to control and reduce the pain.
The Day of Your Workout
Cool Down: The newer the activity or more difficult the workout, the cool down is more important. By gently stretching after your workout, you return your muscles from their contracted working state to the length you use every day. Try ending your workouts with a slower pace of whatever activity you just completed and finishing with some gentle stretches of the major muscles used – big victims of DOMS tend to be the quads, shoulders and glutes. Eccentric activities that cause the muscle to lengthen while working, such as running downhill, are the biggest contributors to DOMS. You can keep soreness under control by gradually increasing these types of demands during your workouts.
Proper Nutrition: Because DOMS is related to the healing process of your body, giving your body the best recovery diet possible will reduce the pain and get you back in the game more quickly. The 45 minutes after your workout are the most important for meeting your recovery nutritional needs, so don't overlook your post-workout nutrition. Include a combination of carbohydrates and protein in whatever snack you choose immediately after your workout. Some suggestions include fruit and low-fat yogurt, a low-sugar protein shake, or an omelet. Then incorporate a diet high in nutritious carbohydrates (think vegetables and whole grains) and lean protein for the next 24 hours. Helpful vitamins and supplements include antioxidants and fish oil to reduce inflammation and increase healing and circulation.
The Next Day
Heat: As long as you're not noticing a sharp, localized pain, heat is a great way to reduce the effects of your tough workout. Try a hot bath with Epsom salts or a heating pad on the most painful areas. Heat will reduce the stiffness of your muscles and further step up the blood flow to speed the healing process.
Massage: Treat yourself to a professional massage while you start your new routine, or talk your honey into helping you out. You can also self massage using a yoga ball (or racquet ball) or foam roller. Click here for a demo of how it's done.
Active Recovery: You may not feel like leaving the couch, but it's probably the one thing that will make you feel better. The day after a tough workout, try to schedule a gentle walk or bike ride, an easy yoga session, or a bit of time in the pool. If you have fitness equipment at home, you don’t even need to get out of the house, or your pajamas, to get in some light activity. Gently working your muscles through their range of motion will remove the waste products associated with their recovery and ultimately leave you feeling better.
The Day After That
Get back to it. One of the greatest motivating factors for keeping up your workouts may be avoiding an extreme case of DOMS. As you continue your healthy new habits, you'll find your body adjusting and your soreness diminishing. While DOMS is usually the worst for a new exerciser, it is an indication that you've done something right by making new demands of your body. Over time, you'll need to step up the intensity and seek out new activities if you want to keep feeling the burn. Increase the elliptical or bike resistance or treadmill incline if you’re working out at home or take to the hills during your outdoor workouts if you’re looking for more of a challenge. Click here for more information on coping with muscle soreness.
Weigh In: Have you experienced soreness while starting a new home fitness routine? What's been helpful for you?