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Have you ever adopted a new workout regimen, then ended up kicking your ass so hard that you became discouraged from the pain you experienced after your workouts? If so, you were probably taken by surprise when delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) set in. What often occurs is that people adopting new exercise regimens may become quickly discouraged, usually because they don’t understand why they are so sore, and will back off from exercising without ever getting a chance to maintain consistency. However, DOMS may be a beneficial signal that your workouts are challenging enough to make a difference.
DOMS typically develops between 24 to 72 hours after physical activity, and is considered a relatively normal and common result of activity that challenges muscle tissue. One popular but flawed theory is that the microscopic tears which occur in the muscle fibers after exercise, coupled with the release of lactic acid and protons, are responsible for the muscle soreness which characterizes DOMS. Mizumura and Taguchi determined in an important study that neurotrophic factors are produced by muscle fibers and satellite cells, and are critical for the development of DOMS symptoms. They also determined that damage to muscle fibers was not a necessary component of DOMS, further suggesting that a neurological cascade is what results in the post-exercise soreness.
For the most part, the aches and pains which characterize DOMS are assumed to be a sign that your muscles are adapting to the activity which caused them to develop in the first place. Rather than shying away from physical activity in the long term, the general recommendation is to take it easy for a few days, while still exercising, until the pain subsides. However, those of us who are gym rats and fitness freaks will tend to adopt the “Suck it up, buttercup!” mentality, powering through workouts as best we can while our bodies scream out in general agony.
So what can you do if you have DOMS and you want to lessen the severity and duration of the soreness? The truth is, not much. However, here are some suggestions which you might want to try. Keep in mind that none of these suggestions is proven to ameliorate DOMS, but none will worsen the symptoms either.
• consumption of plenty of water both during and after exercise
• consumption of a protein-rich meal after exercise
• cherry juice
• vitamin D supplementation
• compression garments
• Epsom salts
• application of heat
One thing to bear in mind is that if you are consistently working out at the same intensity, your muscles will become familiar with that intensity, essentially adapting to it. This phenomenon is called the repeated bout effect (RBE), and basically means that you will most likely notice a drop-off in DOMS episodes. If you suddenly increase the intensity or duration of your workouts, the chance of developing DOMS will return.
Obviously if you believe you have a specific injury, and not DOMS, then get it evaluated and rest up.
Mizumura K, Taguchi T. Delayed onset muscle soreness: Involvement of neurotrophic factors. J Physiol Sci. 2016 Jan;66(1):43-52.
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Image shot by Tim Sevard in October of this year.
Since many people have been asking me about how I have been keeping in shape these days, I decided to devote a blog post to the subject. Though I am retired from competing, and am no longer bodybuilding stage-ready, I model frequently, and I also hold myself to very high standards when it comes to body conditioning. The most important factor in staying lean year round is FOOD, so I make sure to eat clean about 95% of the time. I consume about 100 to 120 grams of protein daily, all from whole foods rather than protein powders, and I drink plenty of water throughout the day. I limit my consumption of sugar and avoid processed foods.
Supplements are also an important part of my daily life. Most of the supplements I take have been in my daily regimen for many years, and I rarely miss a day’s dose. They are what I rely on to keep my body healthy at the cellular level. My goal is to maintain my health without ingesting prescription medications. In fact, the only prescription substance in my regimen is bioidentical progesterone cream.
I continue to challenge my body with frequent exercise, and still rely mostly on weight training for the bulk of my exercise. However, I incorporated aerial classes into my regular routine a couple of years ago for an extra challenge. At one point, I had been taking aerial classes 3 to 4 days per week, but my body was screaming out in agony. After a visit with my orthopedist, we discovered that I had arthritis in both elbows and my neck, and numerous issues in my shoulders, so I decided to back off from the intense aerial schedule I was following. These days, I only take a lyra class once every couple of weeks.
I have also been attending kundalini yoga classes on average of one day per week, and I love the unique physical, mental, and spiritual challenges which they present. Though kundalini yoga is a highly meditative form of yoga, the movements (called kriyas) are INTENSE, and I must often take breaks during these movements. I highly recommend this form of yoga for anyone who wants an intensely spiritual experience.
As for weight training, I train an average of six days per week when I am in town. I have adjusted my weight training to support aerial arts movements like straddle mounts, single knee hangs, pullovers and splits, and work my posterior chain (back, glutes, hams) more vigorously than my anterior chain. I usually follow a split consisting of three leg days and three upper body days which are further split (eg, back/arms, delts, chest/abs). I have also been changing the exercises, rep ranges, and lifting styles on a weekly basis to keep myself challenged. It’s definitely worked, because I am getting delayed onset muscle soreness from almost every workout.
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Are you bored with going to the gym and doing the same old thing? If so, it’s time to switch things up! Simply by changing the repetition range, lifting technique or body part split, you can infuse your workouts with something new and exciting. If you really want to ramp up your routine, add plyometrics or calisthenics, or perform supersets or giant sets.
If you don’t exactly know how to make the changes I am suggesting, I have broken down different exercise elements so that you can easily make changes to your workout routine which will keep you interested.
CHANGE REPETITION RANGE – If you have a habit of doing four sets of 15 repetitions regardless of which exercise you are doing, how about switching it up? Perhaps you can do a warmup set at the same weight which you usually eke out 15 reps, but push yourself to do 20 really good reps. Then increase the weight and do 3 sets of 8-10 reps, and perform them with intensity.
STACK REP RANGES IN PYRAMIDS – Another thing you can try is pyramids, which basically consist of gradually increasing or decreasing the rep range, while decreasing or increasing the weight lifted accordingly. You can perform ascending, descending, or ascending-descending pyramids.
Ascending Pyramids = You will gradually increase the weight used, and decrease the number of repetitions accordingly, with each set. For example, your first set may be 20 repetitions, the second 15 reps, the third 10 reps, and the fourth set 7 reps. Ascending pyramids are effective for increasing strength since you gradually increase the load on the muscle worked.
Descending Pyramids = You perform your first set at a heavy weight, eking out about 6 to 8 solid reps. Subsequent sets will consist of gradually decreasing the weight used, and increasing the number of repetitions accordingly. For example, the second set may consist of 10 reps, the third 15 reps, and the fourth set 20 reps or to complete failure. Descending pyramids are effective for increasing muscle girth since the gradual drop in weight enables you to perform sets to failure.
Ascending-Descending Pyramids = With this pyramid approach, you gradually increase the weight used, and decrease the number of repetitions accordingly, with the first few sets, then DECREASE the weight used and increase the number of reps to finish out the routine. Because of this, I recommend performing odd numbers of sets. For example, your first set may be 20 repetitions, the second 15 reps, the third 8 reps, the fourth set 15 reps, and a fifth and final set can consist of 20-25 reps.
CHANGE THE NUMBER OF SETS PERFORMED – If you are in a rut because you always perform four sets of every exercise, challenge yourself and do 5 or 6 sets. A great way to shake out the cobwebs in your routine is to go for volume, perhaps performing 8 to 10 sets of each exercise to really work your muscles to exhaustion.
CHANGE YOUR LIFTING TECHNIQUE – Many people tend to perform exercises rather rapidly every time they train, so they don’t really focus on what they are doing. There are a couple of ways in which you can challenge yourself and break through plateaus if you have this tendency. One method is to perform negatives, which basically means that after you lift the weight in the concentric phase (in a bicep curl, this would be the phase in which you curl the weight toward your shoulder), you slowly return the dumbbell to the starting position for a count of 5 or 6 seconds. Another great method is rest-pause, in which you perform a repetition at a normal rate, pause briefly, then go to your next repetition forcefully. When using rest-pause technique, slightly increase the weight used to really challenge yourself.
CHANGE YOUR BODY PART SPLIT – If you always train legs on Tuesdays and chest on Fridays, perhaps you might want to switch things up. If you aren’t seeing enough desirable changes in your lower half, add another leg day and focus on the areas which you would like to improve. If you always train your entire body every time you hit the gym, start splitting up body parts so that you devote more time to getting maximum recruitment in the muscles you train.
ADD PLYOMETRICS OR CALISTHENICS – Adding ballistic movements like plyometrics or calisthenics can serve as the catalyst for rapid body transformation. Just be careful if you have hip, knee, or ankle issues. Try adding moves like jumping jacks, jump squats, mountain climbers, burpees, and X-jumps.
PERFORM SUPERSETS OR GIANT SETS – Try stacking two or more exercises together without resting in between exercises to increase muscle fiber recruitment. You can either stack weighted exercises, or perform a combination of weighted moves and plyometrics.
Leg press machine/jump squats
Incline bench chest presses/pushups/dumbbell pullovers