Afraid of Muscle Soreness?

Muscle soreness is familiar to anyone who did some serious strength training. Walking funnily, feeling pain during eccentric contraction (like walking down stairs), and experiencing muscle weakness are all classic symtoms of DOMS, Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness. Not to be confused with the muscle soreness you feel in the end of a training session when you curl that tiny weight and it feels like you lift a small car, your training partner is screaming in your ear and you just want to go home and cramp up in a fetal position. That’s Acute Muscle Soreness, AMS, which is something else.

Back to DOMS. This all to clear message from our body that we aren’t as fit as we thought, is it any good at all?

Yes, DOMS is great. Read on!

DOMS develops during the next couple of days after a training session, always with the same pattern:

Day 1, “Hey that wasn’t so bad, I thought I would have this sick soreness, I think I’m pretty fit after all”.

Day 2 “Damn, those old glutes and hamstrings hurts as hell. Why can’t Earth be completely flat? All these stairs and slopes are killing me.”.

Day 3 “Mama!”.

DOMS peaks in about 48-72 hours after the training session. During DOMS you can experience muscle damage with a corresponding decreased in muscle function, an acute-phase inflammatory response (CRP for example; C-reactive protein), increased activity of myofibrillar proteins like Creatine Kinase, Lactate Dehydrogenase and Myoglobin. So, what is it that trigger this really unpleasant physiological response in my hard earn muscles? Mainly the eccentric contraction.

Eccentric contraction is when you resist a weight or a force that is elongating your muscle, for example lowering the dumbbell in a curl or lowering the bar in the bench press. One majestic eccentric exercise is the Nordic Hamstring Exercise (NHE). Most people will get DOMS just by watching others do this exercise, check it out here.

In short, eccentric contractions give your muscle a higher degree of muscle damage and subsequently, more DOMS, than concentric actions.

But there is one thing that causes even more DOMS than regular eccentric contractions.

-Say what!?

Yes, eccentric overload. Yes, I know, it sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it? Eccentric overload is when the force in the eccentric phase is more than 1 RM concentric. Eccentric overload has been shown to cause even further damage to your muscle, further increase inflammatory response and decrease muscle function even more during DOMS.

Great. But how is that accomplished then? Well traditionally with supra maximal weights and partners helping you in the concentric phase or pushing you down in the eccentric phase (forced negatives), using weight hooks or other inconvenient or impossible, dysfunctional ways. See this list of all stupid ways to get eccentric overload. The smart way however is to use a flywheel device, like the kBox. By using auxiliary muscles in in the concentric phase and breaking harder in the eccentric phase or by overloading one limb in the eccentric phase after having used both limbs in the concentric phase, you get a high eccentric overload as easy as that! Without weights to break your back, and without partners. With high speed reps you will do eccentric overload as easy as it should be done, unassisted. And you will get the results you deserve.

But hey, what about the huge DOMS I’m getting. Won’t that be destroying my training regimen and break me down completely? C’mon, you are really looking to find an excuses to avoid this, aren’t you? But you see, the thing is that the eccentric training is protective against future training induced DOMS. This is called the repeated bout effect. By doing eccentric training you will not only increase more in strength and muscle mass more, but also protect your muscles from getting DOMS in the future. In training studies with eccentric overload the inflammatory and structural damages is attenuated during a training program with eccentric overload. One session of eccentric training has been show to have a preventive effective for up to 3 weeks!

The good news for you weaklings is that you don’t even have to get DOMS to get a protective effect. By doing low volumes of eccentric contractions with our without eccentric overload, while increasing the load step-by-step you can get the same effect in the long run, without being a cripple 6 out of 7 days a week for a month. Great! The same is seen with older people. Even senior citizens get a good effect from eccentric training. It is actually so that old people even better effect, since they get a higher degree of structural damage from the eccentric training.

Step-by step increase could look like this for the NHE for example (from Iga et al 2012; adapted from Mjolsnes et al 2004):

  • week 1: 1 session 2×5
  • week 2: 2 sessions 2×6
  • week 3: 3 sessions 3×6
  • week 4: 3 sessions 3×8.

Increasing load from 10 to 72 reps per week over 4 weeks. And this protocol gave a 21% increase in hamstring muscle torque i 4 weeks!

Well, if you step-by-step increase in training volume doesn’t work on reducing DOMS, studies have shown that coffee reduces pain during DOMS with 48%. Same numbers as for Naproxen.

So, get a kBox and grab a coffee and lets go! don’t fear the muscle soreness!

More posts on effects of eccentric training and flywheel training coming soon!

Update 2015-05-12:

Got a reply on twitter from Karolinska Institute researcher Rodrigo Fernandez-Gonzalo pointing out that they conducted a study in 2014 using flywheel devices in a training study over 6 wks with both men and women where they induced eccentric-overload. They showed nicely that in the at the end of the study the markers for muscle damage remained at baseline and that the increased CK and LDH earlier in the study didn’t interfere with the muscular adaptations. Both sexes increased their muscle mass with about 5%! Strength and power gains were also comparable between sexes. Nice study I often refer to when talking flywheel training but I left it out here since the focus were on general eccentric training. I think however it should be included so thank you Rodrigo for reminding me. I highly recommende everyone to read this paper, it’s has a lot of great info.

Happy DOMS,

/Fredrik Correa, M.D., co-founder

Some references:

  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24307968
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17161977
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23401642
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22895870
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24519446

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