The Morning After…Exactly What Did Happen To Your Legs?

So after a good workout, you go to bed feeling physically tired but great. The next morning, your alarm goes off, and your plan is to jump out of bed, all fired up for another session.  But oooow it hurts. You can hardly move, you plummet to the floor and crawl to the bathroom. After loosening up a little in the shower, you’re ready to attempt the stairs. Backwards is the only option. What exactly has happened?!! 

DOMS: The Exercise Tax

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness  (DOMS) is the technical name for that achy, stiff and fatigued feeling you get in your muscles following an intense workout. The sensation can range from mild discomfort to debilitating pain.

Typical symptoms include weakness, pain, tenderness, stiffness, and swelling of the muscles. These don’t all occur straight away though. Loss of strength usually happens within the first 48 hours, and it can take up to 5 days to fully recover. Pain and tenderness usually peaks after 1-3 days and will typically disappear within 7 days. Stiffness and swelling can peak after 3-4 days and this can take up to 10 days to return back to normal.

Don't worry. It's not as bad as it sounds or feels. Some people even relish and look forward to the DOMS sensation kicking in! Think of it as a natural consequence of you challenging your body to a new level. Sometimes referred to as the exercise tax, DOMS is often an unavoidable reward for seriously hard work. 

When Pain Isn't DOMS

As we mentioned earlier, DOMS occurs hours after you've finished your workout. This is very different from an acute pain that arises abruptly during an activity. Pain that stays with you or gets worse as you exercise is also a strong indicator of a problem that's not DOMS. Additionally, pain around your joints (eg knees, hips, back, pelvis, elbows or ankles) could be a more serious issue that should be checked out. 

What Causes DOMS?

You often hear people blaming DOMS on an excessive build up of lactic acid. However, this theory was debunked about 10 years ago when studies demonstrated that lactate levels in the blood rapidly returned to normal within an hour of exercise. As DOMS doesn’t usually hit you until around 24 hours after a training session, it can therefore be assumed that lactic acid is not the culprit.

Current theory suggests that DOMS is caused by microscopic damage to your muscle tissue. Your body then responds to this damage by triggering inflammation and swelling, which adds to your sensation of pain and discomfort.

The degree of tearing and inflammation depends on how long, how hard and what type of exercise you do. However, you’re more likely to suffer from DOMS if you:

  1. Start exercising after not having done it for a while.

  2. Do a type of exercise that your body isn’t used to (ie. a runner playing tennis for the first time).

  3. Increase the intensity or duration of your workout (ie. a runner doing a tough speed work session, or going for a much longer run than normal).

  4. Focus on exercises that involve eccentric movements, where muscles are lengthened as they resist a force (Eg, downhill running, walking down stairs, landing on the ground following a jump, the downward part of a press up etc)

Your Pain Is Not In Vain

The good news is that all of this pain and discomfort is not totally unproductive.  The underlying DOMS process is all about repair and regeneration. As a result, your muscles are becoming stronger and less likely to be damaged in future.

You're Not Getting DOMS, What’s Gone Wrong?

It’s been 3 days since you pushed your body through an intense workout, but you still don’t feel sore.  Where’s that post-exercise pain and tenderness that you’d almost grown to love? You can’t believe you didn’t work hard enough, so why don’t you feel achy like you did a few weeks ago?

Thankfully, a lack of soreness doesn't relate to a lack of progression, or that you’re not trying hard enough during your workouts. Your body is very quick to adapt to the demands of exercise, and with experience, it becomes much more efficient at dealing with muscle damage. Basically it has less of a shock to the system to deal with.

So don’t get addicted to the idea of post-exercise muscle soreness, it’s merely an indicator of tissue trauma. A red face and sweaty workout gear coupled with an inner glow and a smug feeling are the true indicators of a hard workout!

Just don't give up when it starts getting tough!


Posted by Heather Waghorn.

No Pain No Gain?

We've all heard the saying ‘no pain no gain’, but is this really a good motto to follow where your training regime is concerned? Kate Dorward, Personal Trainer at HA fitness advises on when it’s time to take notice of your aches and pains, and how to prevent them becoming a more serious problem that could jeopardise all the hard work you’ve put in to get fit.

When Is Discomfort Normal?

Most of us will have experienced some muscle soreness a day or two after a training session. This is perfectly normal and can give you a sense of satisfaction, knowing you've done a good workout. Known as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Stiffness), not only is it OK to do a little light exercise, it’s actually a good idea to get the blood flowing to the sore areas as the oxygen and nutrients in the blood will help heal the affected muscles and relieve the symptoms.

And When It’s Not...

But what if your symptoms are more severe? Remember, pain is your body’s way of telling you that something isn't right, so it’s important to listen. It’s better to rest up for a couple of days than to risk an injury, which could force you to stop for an indefinite period.

Never push through the pain hoping that it'll go away. You’ll do more harm than good. Definitely never take pain killers to mask the pain, just so you can continue with a workout. It could lay you up for weeks with a much more serious injury.

If your symptoms arrive quickly and then wear off, then it could be a temporary glitch like cramp or a muscle spasm.  Provided you have no further problems, then it’s OK to keep exercising with some caution.

If the aches and pains don’t abate, or cause a sharp intake of breath when you move in a specific way, then it’s vital not to ignore the message, as something more serious is going on. Cease training the painful area immediately, and once you’ve cooled down and stretched, head home to rest.

If things don’t improve by the next day, then seek a medical opinion. It may turn out to be minor, but it’s worth knowing what you’re dealing with; either to clear your mind or to put you on the fastest possible road to recovery.

Can I Exercise With An Injury?

Exercise is often an integral part of rehabilitation as you’ll need to strengthen the weakened/injured area to improve it. Provided your doctor has cleared you to exercise, then you should be able to keep fit, even if it means some changes to your usual workout.

Speak to your trainer who can suggest alternative exercises to keep you on track whilst you rehabilitate. For example, if you have back or knee problems, then power walking or swimming can be low-impact yet fat-burning alternaltives to running*. For those with shoulder injuries, whilst over the head excercises are a no no, there are still plenty of exercises which can help rehabilitation whilst sculpting the upper body*.

Injury-Proof Your Workout - 10 Golden Rules

Remember, prevention is always better than cure, so follow these 10 Golden Rules for the safest possible exercise programme:

  1. Always warm up and stretch before exercising and NEVER skip the stretches at the end
  2. Build rest days into your weekly programme to give your muscles time to rest and repair
  3. If training on consecutive days, focus your weights and toning on different body parts on each day, e.g. training the arms one day and the legs the next so you don’t overstress or over-train individual body parts
  4. Always work within your limits - push yourself but be realistic. It’s OK to be tired but not to be in pain
  5. If hurt, always get a proper diagnosis from a doctor or physiotherapist, and relay all details to your instructor to ensure everyone is working together for your safely
  6. Always chat to your trainer about injuries or concerns, old or new ones. Your trainer can then tailor your workout accordingly
  7. If an exercise is painful (not just tiring/difficult!) always stop. Get your instructor to assess your technique and posture, and if the if the exercise is still uncomfortable they should suggest an alternative
  8. Build up slowly. Increase your exercise intensity by no more than 10% each week to challenge, but not overstress your body
  9. Develop your core strength. A strong inner unit and good posture are vital in injury prevention
  10. Remember to do your physio exercises...simple as it sounds most patients who see a physio don’t follow their rehabilitation exercises diligently, and all too often old niggles will resurface!

Stay injury free,

*NB each case needs individual assessment

Posted by Heather Waghorn.