If your goal is to become leaner, stronger, build muscle or increase performance in a given sport the most important variable is consistency.
If a workout leaves you so stiff and sore that you can't move for a week, results will come slowly at best. However if you can reduce soreness and restore strength levels more quickly, you will reach your goals because you can train more often at higher intensity.
Delayed onset muscle soreness describes a phenomenon of muscle pain, particularly when the muscle is stretched or touched, muscle soreness and/or muscle stiffness that typically peaks 24-48 hours after exercise and gradually disappears within seven days. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is most frequently felt when you begin a new exercise program, change your exercise routine, or dramatically increase the duration or intensity of your exercise routine.
Several factors contribute to DOMS, including the actual physical stress placed upon the muscles causing small tearing of the muscle, excess free radicals, and release of hormones. Eccentric exercises, the controlling or lowering of the weight, are proven to increase muscle damage and thus increase DOMS. Examples of eccentric exercise would be downhill running and slowly lowering the bar during a bench press.
Stretching is common method to reduce DOMS. Many people stretch before or after working out. Usually the purpose is to reduce risk of injury, reduce soreness after exercise, or enhance athletic performance.
A recent review study, "Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise" reviewed 12 different stretching studies. One study included 2,377 participants, and found that, "The evidence from randomized studies suggests that muscle stretching, whether conducted before, after, or before and after exercise, does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness in healthy adults."
Research is mounting to support the use of different juices as a highly effective recovery aids. It appears that supplementing your pre- and post-workout with antioxidants can provide a powerful assistance to recovery by reducing soreness and restoring strength more quickly.
It is thought that the antioxidants may help with reducing inflammation. Studies involving the use of pomegranate, tart cherry juice and even chocolate have shown positive results reduce DOMS.
A study out of Pennsylvania State University found that, "In summary, the (chocolate) drink was effective in decreasing the level of self-reported perceived soreness after exhaustive exercise." If the goal is fat loss, though, it might be wise to skip the extra calories inside the drinks and try another recovery strategy.
Should you exercise a sore muscle? A study by Sayers and associates examined the difference between light exercise versus rest on a sore muscle. After heavy biceps curls subjects were either put in a sling so the elbow joint couldn't move or performed light biceps curls using 5-pound dumbbells. Strength recovery was actually better in the exercise group, probably because of the increase in blood flow.
The most effective way to reach a fitness goal is through consistency, even if it is not the most effective program ever written.
The old motto, "stimulate not annihilate" says it all. Train intense enough to produce results, but anything more may just lead to increase rate of injury and not being able to walk down the stars for multiple days.
Try using antioxidants or light exercise, like walking or jogging, to help reduce DOMS and if you are still too tired or sore to train consistently at a high level, it may be advisable to rest a bit.
- Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS is a personal fitness coach at Sierra Athletic Club and in the homes of clients in the greater Lake Tahoe area. He graduated with a bachelor of science in exercise physiology / minor in nutrition and earned the most prestigious certification in the industry, the NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist. For more information visit www.KCstrength.com.