“Oh were you planning on walking tomorrow? Not anymore” - Leg day.
Sitting hurts, standing hurts, even lying down hurts. To make matters worse, you're walk is frankly embarrassing and don’t even mention stairs. What’s happened? The DOMS have kicked in. DOMS stands for ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’ and are characterised by the world of pain which kicks in 24-48 hours after a workout. With legs being your body's biggest muscle group and training exercises such as squats, lunges, and leg presses focusing on the eccentric muscle actions, thought to be the main cause for DOMS, it’s normal for legs to be where you ache the most. Whilst there may not be a miracle cure, there are certainly ways to aid recovery.
Post workout cardio
Research by California State University studied the effect of moderate intensity cardio on DOMS after training legs. Participants completed the same leg focused workout, after which one group followed it with 20 minutes of cycling on a stationary bike at a moderate intensity. The subjects who performed moderate-intensity cardio immediately after their leg workout saw their leg strength return to normal a full day faster than those who did nothing. Researchers believe this is due to the fact that the moderate-intensity cycling increased the blood flow to DOMS affected areas, which not only delivered nutrients to damaged muscle tissue but also aided the removal of the waste by-products of exercise (such as lactic acid), helping to speed up healing. So after your next leg worth out it could be worth pedalling past DOMS.
Another study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning compared delayed-onset muscle soreness and the effects of cardio acceleration in between sets of resistance based training. Cardio acceleration simply means performing an exercise which elevates the heart rate before performing the next lift, the theory being that the increased heart rate stimulates an increase in blood flow to the muscles that are being exercised. DOMS were considerably reduced and by the end of the 4 week study eliminated in the cardio acceleration group entirely, suggesting that the increase in blood flow limited eccentric contraction damage known as DOMS and helped speed up muscle recovery. To try cardio acceleration you don’t need to be dashing between weights and treadmills, simple exercises such as jogging on the spot, burpees or skipping will sufficiently raise your heart rate and can be done where you're performing your other exercises.
One of the reasons we experience DOMS is because we are testing the muscles and putting them under the strain of a new routine. After a few weeks of training the body will adapt and no longer ache from the same exercises, hence why a progressive plan is developed to make sure you continue to move forward with your training. The vicious cycle is never ending:
You start training ⇾ Ouch! You experience full blown DOMS! ⇾ Strength! A few workouts later you're no longer becoming sore ⇾ Progress! You change your routine to ensure you’re making progress ⇾ Ouch! Once again you are sore, and so the cycle continues.
So whilst you may be able to reduce leg DOMS by getting stronger, to continue to gain strength, they are a pain you’re just going to have to suffer.
DOMS during sleep
We all know you recover when you sleep and so providing you're not in so much pain you're being kept awake, defeat DOMS with an extra few hours of sleep. Human Growth Hormone, often referred to as HGH, is the hormone which enables repair of damaged tissues. HGH releases its highest doses during deep sleep and, therefore, it is essential to get a good night's sleep to help speed up DOMS recovery.
Is training legs important?
Give these methods a try and next time you suffer from leg DOMS remember, better to ache then skip legs day altogether, as training legs can:
- Lead you to victory in sport. Most sporting events require strong and powerful legs where the athlete exerts maximal force in minimal time.
- Reduce your risk of knee injuries such as Osteoarthritis. Muscle pulls against the bone developing its density.
- Burn more calories. Training the body’s biggest muscle group in compound exercises means getting the greatest calorie burn.
- Improve your balance. Having a strong lower body can help to develop proprioception as well as enhance your performance in balance requiring skills such as ice skating.
- Help you run faster. Training exercises which strengthen the hips such as deadlifts and squats help prevent common hip injuries experienced by runners and develop power in the legs to up your speed.
- Increase metabolism. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest to maintain your composition.
So despite the fact that the DOMS may be brutal, the benefits of training legs means they earn their place and should be a staple in your routine.