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Are you struggling to walk after your workout this week? Well, there's a good chance you're experiencing a case of DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. In this blog, freelance contributor Kieran Alger, explains everything you need to know about DOMS and how you can prevent it.
Ouchie. Yesterday you smashed your HIIT session, but today you can't walk, and the mere idea of dropping into a burpee makes you feel queasy. It's so bad that you can't even get your socks on. But don't worry, your body will get back to normal, and it won't take too long. It sounds like you've just got a naughty case of DOMS.
But what exactly does DOMS mean? And will that insane ache ever go away? All your questions are answered right here…
What is DOMS?
"Delayed onset muscle soreness, aka DOMS, is stiffness and pain that you feel between 24 and 48 hours after doing high-intensity physical exercise that your body isn't accustomed to," explains registered osteopath Leah Hearle, who treats sports injuries in top athletes.
You know the rare occasions when a footballer howls in pain because they're genuinely injured? They hobble in to Leah's Harley Street practice, Isokinetic, for help. "Even trained athletes get DOMS when trying something new," she says. So you're in good company.
Why do we get DOMS?
It seems unfair that pain is the reward for putting ourselves through a hardcore workout. But in fact, DOMS can be a sign that you did something right during yesterday's session.
"The whole idea of resistance training is that you're creating micro-tears in your muscles, so that they recover stronger and firmer," says Leah. "The soreness you're experiencing shows your fitness is progressing."
Why does DOMS feel even worse the day after the day after?
"Delayed onset muscle soreness typically rears up within 24 hours of your exercise session, and peaks approximately 48 hours later," says Leah.
But the good news is, we've got some clever ways for shortcutting your DOMS hell. But what on earth is going on in your body right now?
Leah explains that DOMS is nothing to do with lactic acid, as it was once thought. It's actually all about blood flow and healing. "DOMS involves a temporary inflammation around your overworked muscles, which is the reason for the soreness," she says.
"As the hours pass, blood cells rush to the inflamed area to heal the soreness. So it's normal for that creaky can't-get-out-of-bed feeling to get worse before it gets better. But after 48 hours, you're definitely on the road to recovery."
What's the best treatment for DOMS?
One solution is quick and easy won't cost you much: pour a cup of Epsom salts in a warm bath.
Epsom salts are rich in magnesium, a magic mineral that helps widen your blood vessels to boost your recovery, and soak soreness from your muscles. You can also buy special magnesium salts, but they're three times the price for basically the same thing. Search for Epsom salts in your pharmacy, next to the indigestion remedies – they're also used to treat bloating.
Or, if you're feeling seriously brave (that's code for "desperate"), sit in a cold bath for as long as you can grit your teeth. Many professional athletes swear by ice baths because the cold helps combat the muscular micro-tears from intense exercise.
Leah's ultimate solution sounds a little like interval training: "Contrast water therapy – alternate a hot bath with an ice-cold shower. Keep swapping between the two for 20 minutes."
What massage is best for DOMS?
Start with every fitness bunny's best friend, the foam roller. "Foam rolling can soothe sore knots and release tight trigger points in your muscle fibres," explains Leah. "Go slowly, rolling each limb in turn, from all angles. Breathing deeply as you roll will make the treatment more effective."
Is there a way to avoid DOMS?
Indeed there is, and you don't have to avoid the gym. Leah recommends knee-high compression socks. You may not feel that sexy wearing them, but you will not feel that sore either – you decide what matters most to you.
"It's best to wear compression socks as soon as you finish exercise and keep them on for 24 hours," advises Leah. The latest research in the esteemed journal Brukner & Khan's Clinical Sports Medicine shows wearing compression socks significantly reduces DOMS.
Can I work out with DOMS?
Sure you can. "In fact, doing gentle low-impact cardio like swimming is the best active recovery," says Leah, who also advocates light stretching and a restorative yoga class.
Save your next dynamic HIIT workout or weights workout for when your body feels back to normal – your muscles need a little rest before you launch back into 100 burpees.
Can I eat to beat DOMS?
You'll be pleased to know that eating well can speed up your DOMS recovery. Steak with spinach, sweet potato and red peppers is your ultimate muscle-repairing meal.
"It's got all the key nutrients to help you bounce back," explains Leah. "Plenty of muscle-boosting protein from the steak, lots of vitamin E from spinach and sweet potato, plus an energising dose of vitamin C from your red peppers."