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Post Exercise Muscle Soreness

What is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)?

Newcomers to training or evening experienced athletes who are exposed to a new training stimulus often report muscle soreness, referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

When performing exercise the muscles perform an eccentric, concentric and isometric contraction. For example during a squat the lowering of the body into the squat is the eccentric contraction, if at any point there is a pause, this is referred to as an isometric contraction, and the concentric contraction occurs during the lifting phase of the squat.

Research has indicated that post exercise soreness or delayed onset muscle soreness occurs primarily by the eccentric action, over any other type of muscular action. Furthermore the research demonstrates that adaptation to the exercise minimises the occurrence of DOMS in the musculoskeletal system of conditioned athletes. The micro trauma of connective tissue has also shown to play a significant role in DOMS, however, DOMS is still a poorly understood phenomenon.

What are the effects of DOMS?

Fridan et al. 1983, determined that a single training session of intense eccentric exercise causes pronounced DOMS. Furthermore, a trainee should expect DOMS for a period of 24-72hrs post workout, which will dissipate after several days.

Eccentric exercise has been shown to produce greater and rapid increases in muscular strength and hypertrophy than the concentric muscle action, due to greater tissue damage being produced during eccentric muscle actions (Hortobagyi et al. 2000).

With the onset of DOMS the trainee can expect to see a reduction in number of attributes, such as reduced strength, muscle stiffness resulting in a decreased range of movement around the joint, and swelling of the muscle. DOMS is commonly characterised by a sensation of a dull, aching pain, felt during movement.

The magnitude of DOMS is influenced by intensity, volume, velocity and length of the eccentric contraction, and the trainees previous experience of training and exposure to the specific exercise. Fridan et al. 1983, further determined that the effects of DOMS over an eight week period, training three sessions per week, diminished or where not apparent after two to three weeks of training, indicating that eccentric adaptation had taken place.

Methods to reduce DOMS

Delayed onset muscle soreness is still a very misunderstood subject, and as such prevention methods or methods to reduce DOMS are speculative rather than definitive.

It has been suggested that various forms of stretching, static, PNF and dynamic stretching may help reduce inflammation and aid recovery, therefore reducing the effects of DOMS. Appropriate nutrient and vitamin intake post exercise has been shown to reduce DOMS, but is not conclusive. Athletes have been known to take and benefit from ice baths, prior to a regular shower or bath, post exercise, however the research again is inconclusive as to the benefits.

In conjunction with a tailored nutrition plan I recommend clients a post workout protein shake. A review study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in September 2007 cited research that consuming a protein shake post resistance training reduced the symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness, as it accelerates the healing of the muscle fibres.


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