This article was first published on Badboy- UK with the kind help of subject matter expert DOM KINSEY – Founder and Head Coach of Iron Warrior Fitness. I hope you enjoy it and that you gain something from Dom's infinite experience and wisdom.
A certain level of soreness after training (AKA Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS for short) can be a welcome reminder of the great session you had the day before, but sometimes it can be a crippling pain that restrict the amount of training you can do. I spoke to Strength and Conditioning expert Mr Dominic Kinsey on the subject of DOMS and he shared a few helpful tips to handle this love / hate relationship.
DOMS is not just one thing but rather an umbrella term that covers many painful sensations and its causes can be just as varied. It expresses itself as stiff and achy muscles and this, often dull, pain reaches a peak approximately 48 hours after the stimulus that caused it. “Some athletes even relish this sensation as a biological receipt for the hard work on the mat or in the gym, despite the lack of any scientific evidence linking presence / level of DOMS and better results.” Dominic tells me, “when in fact having less soreness means being able to get back on the mat or in the gym sooner and possibly performing better. A guy in one of my strength and conditioning classes thought it was just a play on my name for months! “Sore today?” “Yep got DOMS, the ba$t@rd!””.
What are the causes of training soreness?
DOMS often follows change. It is unlikely that you would experience DOMS if you always do what you have always done, unless you insert long periods of inactivity (e.g. returning to the mat after an injury or an extended break). The most common culprits for DOMS are either: a changed exercise routine (new exercises, drills or positions), increased training intensity (stronger, heavier or faster training partners or more competitive sparring) or longer training sessions. “Additionally, certain forms of muscular contraction can cause worse DOMS than others. Eccentric1 contractions are the worst, followed by static and finally concentric contractions which cause the least amount of DOMS” Dominic advises, “which is bad news for grapplers in general and BJJ fighters in specific as there is a lot of static and eccentric work in gi jiujitsu and submission grappling”.
There are many theories behind the causes of DOMS but the most common one links the pain to the microscopic damage the muscles and connective tissue endure during exercise and studies have indeed shown that these micro-tears, and associated local inflammation, occur more frequently with pure eccentric training than with static or concentric contractions, which supports that theory.
How can I prepare my body to avoid / minimize training soreness?
The key to minimizing DOMS lies in understanding its causes. By avoiding sudden leaps in intensity you can sidestep a lot of unnecessary aching and stiffness. Proper and functional warm ups also help prepare your muscles and connective tissue for the work out ahead so no individual muscle is caught by surprise when called upon. “The same logic used for gym work can be applied to jiujitsu and grappling. When you start performing a new exercise (e.g. incline bench press, double leg takedowns…etc.) you are advised to start with a low level of resistance, focusing on the technical details of the movement and work for durations well within your limits. Once the movement is more familiar to you start, slowly and gradually, increasing the resistance, duration and / or level of resistance.” This gradual, progressive attitude to training is, unfortunately, not too common amongst grapplers and other combat athletes. The exception is amongst early starters or athletes who transitioned to grappling from a solid background in other competitive sports. These athletes often exhibit a more tuned-in understanding of their body and its capabilities.
Another factor that could contribute to better management of DOMS that is, yet again, not common feature at grappling academies is post workout cool-down and stretching. While the scientific evidence backing up the effects of stretching on reducing DOMS are not conclusive, the other more documented benefits (improved blood / lymph circulation, restored muscle length…etc.) make it a wise investment of your mat time.
“How can I prevent soreness? Wrong question. How can I make recovery and adaptation faster? That would be the right question. It’s about improving recovery and adaptation, look after your body and it will thank you for it. Eat well & sleep well.” Dominic adds.
What can I do once my body is sore?
To train or not to train (with DOMS), that is the question. “Do what you can” Dominic advises, “and understand the relationship between cause and effect. Is the pain so severe that it may hinder proper performance on the mat and, consequently, put you in danger during the grapple? In that case then rest (or perhaps active rest) might be a better option. A gentle swim, walk or even a yoga session can help speed your recovery from DOMS and put you back in the gi sooner. I’d also recommend a massage. It helps by reducing inflammation immediately after training; it also seems there may be other benefits linked to gene switches that increase recovery and adaptation to exercise.
Ice baths or cold showers will also reduce inflammation and DOMs but new evidence suggests they do this by blocking muscle repair and growth. So save the ice bath for theTour de France.
Ultimately how you deal with DOMS is down to your attitude, you can bitch and moan or wear it as a badge of honour. Personally I bitch and moan but I’m always disappointed if I don’t get any!” Dominic concludes.
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