If you feel as though delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is part and parcel of a challenging physical workout, think again. That feeling of your muscles turning to stone is actually something you can beat. Why, because your overall performance will be better if you can have a healthy and active routine you play out consistently. 

What is DOMS?

A day or two after a hard ride or unusually challenging workout it’s very normal to feel sore, your muscles have a lot to do to regroup and detox, but with DOMS, it’s something a little more than standard muscle aches. Some people like to call it ‘muscle fever’ because of the sickly, unrefined feeling of your muscles. 

Symptoms of DOMS

  • Dull pain
  • Muscle tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Joint swelling
  • Decreased muscle strength 

Symptoms usually last between one and four days with the severity of the feeling increasing with the intensity and newness of the activity. Other varying factors include how fit the person is completing them as well as genetics and hydration levels. 

Why does DOMS happen?

When we exercise our muscle lengthens rather than shortens, this is known as concentric movement. If we do this too much the muscle stretches out so much it tears. When you rest the muscles go to work on repairs. Tiny tears are a usual consequence of exercise and you might not even notice them, except that your form improves when you heal. The bigger the tear the more you will feel it and the longer it will take the muscle to reform. 

DOMS is a common side effect of cycling because pushing down on the pedal is hard work on your hamstrings and causes that eccentric movement. 

It’s important to note that experiencing DOMS doesn’t necessarily mean your workout is working. While it’s a positive that small muscle tears mend and strengthen after exercise if you take that too far and overwork the muscle you are actually breaking it down, not building it up. You don’t want to be intentionally working yourself to soreness thinking that you will be getting better results. 

Why we dislike DOMS

As well as being painful the muscle soreness and weakness of DOMS can affect your workday and regular movement as you may find you need to slow down considerably or reduce your movement range. Having DOMS will definitely affect your performance so if you are expecting to ride again in a short time frame you will need to rethink your routine. This can really be a problem if you are competing over a multi-day event. 

What to do about DOMS

In our next article How to conquer DOMS: part two we go through ways you can create a routine that ensures you don’t suffer the pain of DOMS, or if you do overdo it, the pain is lessened and your recovery time is reduced. 

If, however, you have already put yourself into DOMS difficulties here are some ways you can help your body through and reduce the pain so that it doesn’t have a negative effect on your day. 

You don’t have to slouch on the couch, you can (and should) do gentle movements and stretches and you can even go for a light recovery peddle if your soreness is not too bad.

  • Go through some gentle exercise (which might just be walking the dog)
  • Make sure you stretch before you attempt any exercise to help warm your muscles and ease the pain
  • Hydrate (with electrolytes if needed)
  • Get plenty of protein
  • Sit in a cool bath
  • Apply a heat pack 

As well as tiny tears from overuse the soreness in your muscles can also come from inflammation. While difficult to live with inflammation is a necessary part of cellular recovery repair and recovery after we attempt new movement and intense exercise 

Warning: Continuing an exertive exercise routine with DOMS can lead to injury. Your muscles are fatigued and need to rest. It becomes very easy to compensate for tired muscle groups by changing your saddle position, pedal stroke and energy exertion, all of which is a recipe for a serious injury. 

How to ease sore muscles

1. Foam roller

After exercise, the muscle fibres can tense up and form small knots. A massage with a foam roller helps break down these adhesions as well as helping to repair scar tissue. By increasing blood flow and nutrition. Your own bodyweight works to provide a smooth pressure and it’s just as effective as a professional soft tissue massage.

2. Avoid pain relief tablets

While it might seem good to have instant comfort to go about your day, the issue with pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medication is that they can mask your muscle soreness so you continue to overwork rather than rest. Once the medication wears off you will feel worse, your muscles will be in a more depleted condition leading to an ongoing cycle of drug dependency or delayed recovery. If you do take anti-inflammatory drugs make sure you do so infrequently and rest so your body can heal.

3. Monitor your symptoms

While DOMS is a common side effect of exercise muscle soreness can also be due to more serious problems that require medical treatment. Rather than brush off your pain as typical DOMS be sure to check in on your pain levels and monitor your progress so you can seek the help of a physical therapist, all the better if you can get in touch with a cycling PT specialist. 

Being sore has zero benefits in either the long or short term so rather than just managing your pain, let’s look to conquer it completely with our next post on DOMS prevention, so you can ride well for longer.