Some of the most commonly practiced measures to limit post-exercise muscle soreness actually don’t work. Many runners believe that cooling down with easy jogging after a hard run prevents DOMS by flushing lactic acid out of the muscles. But lactic acid doesn’t cause post-exercise muscle soreness and cooling down at the end of workouts does not reduce muscle soreness the next day. Research has also shown that ice baths fail to prevent DOMS and massage is ineffective as a treatment for it.
Pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen do provide temporary relief from muscle soreness; however, you should never train so hard that you must resort to it. Save the medication for after your races, when you really need it! Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs actually impede muscle tissue repair, so you wouldn’t want to rely on them daily, anyway. What’s more, exercise itself is analgesic, so on those days when you find your muscles sore from your last workout you will probably actually get some relief from a light recovery session.
While cooling down after a hard workout does not prevent DOMS, warming up before one does. A good warmup literally warms, lubricates, and increases the elasticity of the muscles, preparing them to handle high-intensity work with less strain. Think about what waking up in the middle of the night and being forced to sprint 100 yards would do to your body compared to a similar sprint performed mid-afternoon after a thorough warmup!
An effective nutritional means of limiting the muscle damage underlying DOMS is consuming carbohydrate with protein during workouts. A 2007 study by researchers at James Madison University found that a carbohydrate-protein sports drink consumed during an exhaustive cycling workout reduced muscle damage by 83 percent compared to a carbohydrate-only sports drink. As a result, performance in a second workout undertaken the following day was improved by 40 percent in the carb-protein group compared to the carb group.
Muscle soreness will always be a part of the running experience. As they say, no pain, no gain. But you can limit DOMS by increasing your training slowly, by doing a few all-out sprints early in the training process to trigger the repeated bout effect, by warming up thoroughly before hard runs, and by consuming carbohydrate with protein during runs.
About The Author:
Matt Fitzgerald is the author of numerous books, including Racing Weight: How To Get Lean For Peak Performance (VeloPress, 2012). He is also a Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. To learn more about Matt visit www.mattfitzgerald.org.