Let's discuss D.O.M.S. (delayed onset muscle soreness) for a second. More than likely, we have all experienced DOMS at some point in our life. What it is, is an inflammatory response from our bodies in response to a new or different stimulus not usually experienced by the body.
If you were to fall and land on your butt, you would more than likely get a bruise, and it would be sore for a few days. This is due to localized inflammation causing your butt to hurt as that area has now become inflamed. Well, if you were to do some squats for the first time in a year, chances are, your legs and butt are also going to be sore due to microtrauma in your muscle fibers, leading to DOMS. We all know this, we all expect it, and yet, this is becomes a topic of discussion from time to time.
Just because your muscles/body is sore, does not mean that you had a "good workout".
I was listening to the radio this morning. My favorite station was playing commercials, so naturally I went "channel surfing" to listen to something else. On another station, the morning show host was discussing a ridiculous news study about how 50% of women like "washboard abs" on guys...blah, blah, blah. To be honest, I wasn't really paying attention.
I did start to listen, however, when he was talking with one of the fellow hosts about how he went to the gym 3 times over the weekend, and at how 'sore' he was this morning. The radio host then went on to say (paraphrasing), "All of that hard work hardly seems worth it, you still don't have washboard abs!"
Let's go back and understand what DOMS really is. It is your body's response to a new/more difficult stimulus. Re-read that last sentence. Let me give you an example of what I am attempting to get at here. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, and decide one Saturday afternoon to go out and play catch with your son for an hour, chances are, you are going to wake up Sunday morning with a sore shoulder. Does this mean that you had a good workout? No necessarily. All it means is that you repeatedly threw a ball for an extended period of time on Saturday, which is something your body is not used to doing.
So, to get to my gripe. You can always tell when a co-worker or friend is starting a new workout program, because they will more than likely tell you ALL about how sore they are. "Holy cow, I had such a good workout last night, I am SO sore this morning" they will say. The question remains, did they actually have a good workout, or was it more likely that they start doing squats and pushups (or something like that), which is unusual in their day-to-day lives.
So why the gripe? Well, all too often, people confuse muscle soreness with progress/improvement. Yes, your body will be, and should be sore after you do something new or more difficult. However, and this is a key component of any health and fitness plan. One workout that made you sore means nothing. It really doesn't. Just as getting off the couch to go play catch for an hour with your son making your shoulder sore won't whip you into shape and make you a major league pitcher, doing one (or a few) "tough" workouts will not improve your overall health. Exercise is a full-time, life-long job. Period.
There are a few things to keep in mind with DOMS.
1. Do something continually to improve.
I am reminded of a story I heard a while back (I can't for the life of me remember where) about a garbage man starting a new job. This garbage man actually really enjoyed his job due to being outside in the fresh air, getting some exercise, meeting people, etc. It wasn't always sunshine and good times though.
The garbage man's first few days/weeks on the job were horrible. A full shift of lifting people's trash cans and garbage into a garbage truck really wore him down. It was a new stimulus. Bending down, lifting things, tossing them into the truck. These were all natural movements, but unusual for his body. New stimulus to shock his muscles into a state of DOMS. It wasn't until a few weeks into his job that the soreness started to lessen and then disappear.
This is the basis for a standard periodization model. You shock your body with a new stimulus, your body reacts to the stimulus, and then overcompensates, making your muscles stronger than they were prior to the new stimulus. However, this only happens over a period of time using the (relatively) same actions.
2. (Related to #1) Avoid constant change.
What I mean by this, is don't be so concerned about aiming for DOMS all the time. Far too often I see folks changing up their fitness routines constantly, without any chance for their bodies to adjust to a new stimulus. Maybe they get bored really quickly. Maybe they are addicted to the DOMS and feel as though they need to constantly change things up to feel sore and therefore feel 'accomplished'.
Either way, by introducing new stimulus too frequently or too often can actually lead to decreased performance due to overtraining. I hate to throw this name out there, but Crossfit is famous for this. They pride themselves on new or different workouts every day, which may get you in overall shape rather quickly, but you never excel at any one given thing.
Quote of the day:
"All our dreams can come true - if we have the courage to pursue them."
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