By Dave Thomas
Soreness is like Netflix. A little bit is perfectly okay, but all day everyday and you have a serious problem (trust me, I know).
The most common type of muscle soreness we feel is known as DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness. DOMS is a highly researched, yet little known phenomena. It’s kind of like the outer space of the fitness world. We know it’s there, but that’s about it. Some science points to it occurring as a byproduct of the metabolic process, blaming lactic acid build up. Other science points to it as a byproduct of movement, blaming heavy loading and fiber tearing during eccentric movement. All that we really know about it is that its peak usually hits around two days after moving some really heavy shit for a lot reps, the reason why you were probably very sore last Wednesday after Monday’s squat challenge.
Constantly enduring debilitating muscle soreness for every workout is not a badge of honor. It likely signals inefficiencies in your weight selection or training frequency that can easily be corrected while eliciting better results.
You have know how much is too much before it becomes crippling. Here are ten ways to perform and feel better, and keep that
Netflix soreness addiction from getting out of control.
1. Stop Training Every Day. This is one of the most common mistakes people make. It’s also one of those mistakes those of us who love training all know we make, yet we never correct it. P360 workouts, while technically able to be completed everyday from a progression perspective, are not meant to be performed everyday from a recovery perspective. We are not an overdose gym, but we are certainly not a minimum effective dose, either. Take your recovery just as seriously as your training. Don’t go more than three days in a row. Don’t go more than five days in a week. Simply reducing overall volume by 15 – 25% can help your body recover and your performance improve. Around here, we call that a bit of “doing less”.
2. Journal Your Training. It doesn’t have to be a detailed dissertation, just write down what you lift. For example, last Monday when we had forty minutes of different squat variation. If you were among the crowd still complaining of soreness on Thursday, you likely went too hard. If you were tracking your weight you could take a look at your load and know to scale back a bit the next time we perform squats. The fool is the man who thinks this strategy will make him weaker, however avoiding constant muscle failure is one of the single best things you can do to routinely get stronger. (NOTE: As of this re-post we now offer a free online performance tracker listed every day in the same website area as the workouts.)
3. Take Your Mobility Seriously. Do yoga. Stretch. Foam roll. Lacrosse balls. We have multiple articles that feature targeted drills for all areas of the body part. If you are habitually immobile, buy some bands, read up and commit to improving it. Exercising is not going to improve your mobility, you must put in work outside of your training. If you continue to force heavy load on range of motion that is not there, you’re potentially looking at orthopedic problems down the line. Address it, progress at very light loads if you are particularly immobile. If you can’t get into a body weight squat, don’t do a loaded back squat. Which brings us right into…
4. Stay the Course. It’s very important that we all understand the rate of adaptation. The newer a stimulus to the body the more the body responds to it, before in lack of scientific terms, we get used to it. It’s the same reasons why junkies chase that first high and why we get frustrated at our slowed gains once we exit the beginner stage of our training. However, it’s very important that as a beginner you knock your ego down a peg or two and understand that rigorous training requires humility. You can be a CEO of a hundred million dollar company, but that’s not shit in the gym. Your body must be allowed to slowly progress, build proper motor paths, strength in the joints and improve at a slow, steady pace. As 1,214 pound squatter Andy Bolton says, “It takes five hundred reps to make a movement automatic, but three thousand to undo a faulty movement pattern and re-groove it”. Let those five hundred be at slower, lighter weight or you’ll be forever trying to re-groove.
5. Don’t “King Kong” Your Plyometrics. A soft landing on the plyo box is key. There is a major difference between a controlled landing and screaming out of control onto the runway, wings wobbling side to side just avoiding a crash landing. Whatever the jump, box jumps, broad jumps, single or dual leg, be sure to own the landing and be soft with your feet. Your feet should be muted, demonstrating you have control over your power. If you don’t and your power is controlling you, it can lead to injury. Or the most likely case, the continued abrasive landings will beat up your knees and ankles and cause you unnecessary soreness.
6. Be Tense. We drone on ad nauseum about tension in class on big movements, we’ve written about it on the blog and it still bears repeating for as long as we coach people: THE MORE TENSION, THE SAFER AND STRONGER THE LIFT. Tightly pull yourself under the bar on deadlifts. Grip the bar with purpose on cleans and snatches, squeeze the bar into the scapulae on squats, and violently contract your glutes on swings. Think about how you construct a tent. It’s pulled tight around all sides of it because the tension one side holds up the other. It would collapse at the first breeze if not for mechanical tension. Think of serious weight as that breeze, and the heavier the relative load the harder the breeze. A 1R max is a hurricane. Ignore tension at the start of the lift and at the very best, it’s unnecessary soreness in areas like your lumbar that shouldn’t be sore.
7. Rule of 3 Warm-Up. Take your time and get at least three or four sets in at baby weight before you even begin your working weight. Sometimes we’ll strip weight from folks on that first warm-up set! Lubricate the joints, send heat to the working muscles. This is just as much for your joints as it is for the muscles so give ’em time to warm up by building up with at least three sets of lighter load prior to working weight.
8. Cool Down and Stretch. We put this separate of item number three because there is a difference between post workout stretching and extra curricular mobility work. Stretching pre-workout is all but universally accepted as a poor way to warm up, but it’s still a fine way to cool down and end a training session. While stretching immediately after a workout is not going to work any miracles in preventing soreness, it will help start the recovery process by re-lengthening the muscles into their pre-training states. The main benefit is the continued fight against immobility as the improved flexibility will improve your follow-up workout by not starting in a state of shortened muscle fibers. Still, don’t expect this to be very preventative against DOMS.
9. Ice Baths. If you are a seasoned veteran who goes particularly hard, or a competitive athlete of any kind then you’ll need to pick your game up more than the average bear. Two words. Ice baths. You haven’t felt discomfort until you’ve sat in a bathtub of ice water until you went numb. My history with it is for rehabilitation during collegiate athletics, but it’s a great measure to help the body recovery and Randy Coture’s self proclaimed secret to an MMA career well into his 40s. This should be reserved for competitive athletes. If you are just training hard for yourself, you don’t need to take it so hard you need a freakin’ ice bath.
10. Get Enough Carbs. Food is often overlooked as part of the recovery process. Hell, here at sits all the way down at number ten. If you are under nourished, you will under perform and under recover. BCAAs are certainly a decent step in providing your body more help, but it needs to go beyond that; foods that actually fight inflammation like fish oil, greens and friendly carbohydrates like sweet potatoes. One of the reasons we don’t prefer a low carb diet when training aggressively is that it’s likely in the carb range below what we need for optimum recovery. Remember, eating for fat loss and performance are two completely separate goals. While plenty of athletes get enough carbs while still following Paleo, most regular folks do not. If you are just eating protein, fat and veggies then your bloodstream never ends up receiving that full amount of protein to send to your damaged muscles. Because you are underfed in carbs, your body is going to turn at least some of that protein into needed glucose and your sore muscles lose out on first aid. Speculating a blind amount for each person is silly, but that discussion starts in the neighborhood of at least 100g per day for adequate performance and recovery.
Remember, a little soreness is okay, and certainly on days we have particularly high volume you will be a bit more sore than usual. But it’s important to learn the difference between acceptable soreness (24 – 48 hours) and constant debilitating soreness (48 hours +). Find the happy medium in your training by avoiding particularly long layoffs from the gym, but also providing enough rest to not be in a constant state of abuse recovery.
Get proper macronutrients, stretch a bit more and pay attention to what you are lifting.
Embrace a small amount of soreness while avoiding the debilitating stuff and enjoy a long road of successful training.
Dave Thomas is a coach and co-owner of Performance360 in Mission Beach, San Diego, holding certifications in USA Weightlifting, Russian Kettlebell and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.