“No pain no gain,” said the work out enthusiast doing repetitive bicep curls in the mirror. But what is pain or muscle soreness? A common misconception is the “No pain no gain” slogan, but what some might consider “muscle soreness” could be something even bigger. In this blog post we will talk about neuromuscular adaptation, the delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) and some tools to reduce DOMS.
Before we start talking about DOMS, I think it is important to take a second to talk about the neuromuscular adaptations that happen in the body within the first month of an exercise program for a beginner. The best example I can think of is when you start a new sport, for example, let’s use Tennis and returning a serve. When you start out playing tennis you put everything into that serve and your central nervous system (CNS) is recruiting more muscle fibers than necessary. Your body isn’t used to this motion and therefore the next day you are probably sore and aching in places you never thought could ache. After days and weeks of practice this motion of returning a serve becomes easier and before you know it you are back-handing tennis serves and returning serves like Rafael Nadal. Starting an exercise program is the same in which your body needs to learn the recruitment patterns to properly move your body. This is why people beginning to learn a squat look more like they are dancing the hokey pokey rather than performing a proper squat. But this article is not about neuromuscular adaptation and recruitment, but overall it is important to understand associated body adaptations.
The delayed onset of muscle soreness commonly referred to as DOMS occurs after 24-48 hours of strenuous exercise and may last for up to a week. It occurs due to microscopic tears in muscle fibers resulting in an inflammatory response. These tears are caused by eccentric muscle contractions and unfamiliar higher intensity activity.
The flow of this response is as follows:
Strenuous exercise, structural damage to the muscle cell calcium leaks out of the sarcoplasmic reticulum – leads to the breakdown of cellular proteins into amino acids – then causes the inflammatory response – pain or “muscle soreness.”
With new clients that are just starting an exercise, DOMS can occur more frequently due to the fact strenuous exercise is a new activity for them. Differentiating between DOMS and a possible injury is, therefore, an important thing to keep in mind when starting to train a new client. Some modalities used to try to reduce DOMS include heat and ice, an increased intake of vitamin C, stretching, massage, anti-inflammatory agents and hyperbaric oxygen. The best method to prevent or reduce DOMS is proper and specific training to the targeted muscle groups. Some indicators that an injury might have occurred are a decrease in force productions, increased levels of hydroxyproline in the blood, increased number of white blood cells and swelling. Although you can only physically see a couple of these indicators, a client experiencing pain generally lasting longer than 5-6 days should be referred to the proper physician.
Starting with the fundamentals of strength training, cardiovascular training and flexibility will go a long way with a beginning client. Although it might not be as fancy as doing elevated push-ups or weighted chin-ups, teaching and preaching the fundamentals shows how one can create life changes and not just short term fixes.