Newbies might be surprised at how quickly you can stop feeling DOMS when you start exercising.
Nothing quite compares to the post-workout pain when you start a new workout routine. You wince as you lift your leg a few inches to get up the stairs and groan as you reach up to grab a mug from the cabinet.
Obviously, it gets better – otherwise Emma Raducanu would be hobbling around the tennis court from her matches the day before. But do you need to be a pro before your body adapts to exercise, or does it happen faster than that?
Why do I get DOMS?
First up, why do you even get post-workout pain anyway? Known as DOMS, which stands for delayed onset muscle soreness, there’s actually no real evidence behind why we get it. The general understanding is that it’s down to inflammation, micro tears in the muscle and waste product building up around those recently worked muscles.
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There are things that we know make DOMS worse, including eccentric training and trying unfamiliar forms of activity. That’s why newbies get much worse pain than those who are accustomed to a training style.
How long will you keep getting DOMS?
The good news is that you won’t always be as sore as you are after your first class.
“When you go to your first spin class, say, you’ll likely get DOMS from the new pushing and pulling motion. But once if you’ve done it a few times, you might notice that you don’t get sore – that’s because your body has adapted, it’s put down the muscle and it increased the capacity to deal with the activity,” says Dr Brinda Christopher, specialist consultant in sports and exercise medicine for HCA UK.
There’s no way to say exactly how long it will take – but Dr Christopher’s advice of a ‘few’ sessions seems much more appealing than what you might have been thinking. It can often feel like we aren’t seeing much progress in a session, lifting the same weights or running at the same speed – but pay attention to your lessening DOMS and you’ll notice that the body is making changes.
“However, it really depends on your past experience, and everyone is individual. Some people respond to training really well – they see improvements in athletic ability, aerobic capacity, power, strength or agility changing at a much faster speed than others,” says Dr Christopher. That includes how quickly they may get DOMS, but “there is no golden standard”.
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But fitness is also a transferable skill, so don’t let the fear of DOMS put you off trying something new.
“How fast you adapt to a session can depend on what your baseline of training is. Take a PT whose job it is to be very active for five days a week – they might take on a new task very well, whereas someone who isn’t used to a lot of movement may struggle a little more. People who like to try new things and do so regularly will probably respond well,” Dr Christopher explains.
Why is my DOMS getting worse?
If you are still getting DOMS despite being well versed in your session, it doesn’t mean your fitness is going backwards. All sorts of factors contribute to how you feel after your workout, including the fact that you’ll no doubt continue to push your resistance, reps or speed in your chosen workouts.
As long as you keep challenging yourself, you’ll probably still feel a little stiff the next day. But remember that DOMS isn’t always the sign of a good session – often, those who are adapted can work hard and feel loose the next day.
Your nutrition can also play a role. Hydration is important to help the body clear waste product that is thought to be responsible for DOMS from the muscles, and eating enough to support the body to rebuild can also impact how well you recover.
“Think about your total energy available. Your body is like a battery, and if you’re using 60% of your energy to exercise and repair from exercise, you have less battery for your immune system and other normal functions,” says Dr Christopher.
Your age might impact your adaptation too. “You may have heard your parents say they are doing the same exercise as when they were young but it’s less effective now. The older you are, generally the less responsive you’ll be.”
But really, the body is pretty amazing at adapting to what we ask of it. “We never give out bodies enough credit for how well it adapts,” says Dr Christopher. As long as you’re recovering well, keep going. Your body will get there sooner than you think.
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