DOM’s (delayed onset muscle soreness) or the “ouchy feeling” as it can often be referred to is something I hear riders speak alot about when they first get started on fitness journeys. Many of the girls I have coached came to me thinking a sign of a good workout was feeling beat up, legs like jelly & having soreness for days but it is important to understand that DOM’s & feeling physically sore or stiff is not necessarily a sign of a good workout & in the long run it could actually be a bad thing.
It’s definitely nice to feel a little bit of pain after a session, it’s nice to know you’ve worked hard & your programme has created some adaptation but being sore all the time or consistently is more likely to hinder than help your progress in the long run.
Training should not leave you feeling beat up, fatigued or sore all of the time. Period, end of.
For most of you, the time you spend in your sessions will then be followed by either going back to work whether that be a physically or mentally demanding job, or going for a ride or spending time looking after your kids. If you’re feeling sore & can’t even squat down to the loo then it’s not going to help you or be very proactive for everything you need to get within your day is it?
It’s a common misconception that soreness is a good thing. Workout programes like “insanity” encourage us to believe that we should feel awful after a hard session & be "beasted" but that is not the aim of the game & this is a mindset I always challenge clients to change & help them to understand what soreness actually is. DOMs aren’t always the sign of a good workout & it’s important to know what they mean so you know when to push & when you need to back off.
Soreness & DOM’s occur when we cause tears & stress to the muscle fibres, training causes these tiny tears which in the long run is how we get stronger but short term this can be why we feel sore & the muscles become inflamed.
Within resistance training, we have a minimal & maximal adaptive volume that the body can recover from. We want to be making sure our training volume & load is between the two to achieve this sweet spot & create adaptations but not so much that we cause injuries by constantly going over the maximum workload the body can handle repeatedly.
Volume can often be the reason you struggle with soreness so sets & reps should be considered. Make sure you look at your programme across the week as a whole. Repeatedly doing high reps such as 15-20 reps for 3-4 sets will make you sore so considering your volume & the amount you’re doing is really important.
If you’re consistently finding your sore then you may well be going over this maximum volume repeatedly & in the long run, you won’t get the results you’re looking for. This is when you’d want to look at your programme & consider how the weekly volume & movement patterns all compliment each other.
If you repeatedly hit the same muscles & movement patterns you’re going to create too much stress & in the long run, you’ll most probably pick up an injury as your programme isn’t balanced.
DOMs can also be a good indicator that your recovery protocols are not good enough. Sleep & diet is where our gains come from. If you work hard in your training but then go home & get 5 hours sleep & eat rubbish you are not giving your body the tools it needs to recover & in all reality that is when training becomes a little pointless as with poor recovery your body won’t be able to adapt to the stress you’ve placed upon it so ultimately your work in the gym will be useless.
For beginners or when you start a new way of training, you will most probably experience soreness & fatigue in the body. This is because you're applying a new stress & stimulus to the body & it’s going to take time to adapt as you increase the load & volume you’re doing. After a week or two, the soreness should subside.
When you’re physically feeling sore it’s going to be mentally taxing & fatiguing too, if you’re hurting all the time this is going to seriously demotivate you & make you not want to get into your training sessions & work hard. This can often be why riders drop off a training programme.
So how do we avoid DOMs then?
Focus on working through various movement patterns & hitting different muscle groups within each training session across your week. The best way to structure this would by say, by doing session 1 focusing on the muscles on the front of your body, such as thighs, chest, abs then session 2 focuses on the back of the body working glutes, hamstrings, back muscles & then you alternate this pattern through the week.
This will make sure the body has a good 48 hours to recover between sessions & you know you won’t be overdoing it or overworking those same muscle groups or movements.
Over time you want to make sure the load used or the amount you’re doing is progressed but it is important to do this gradually. Too much of a jump too soon with either volume or resistance can create too much stress & this is when injuries can be likely to occur.
If you implement new exercises or movement patterns into your training then you will probably find it takes your body time to adapt to these & you may well be sore. This is totally normal & if you start with a sensible, moderate weight then progress steadily you should find the DOMs dissipate pretty quickly.
If you’re not feeling sore then don't panic, it is easy to think;
"Oh I don’t feel sore nothing is happening"
Whereas actually if you’re not sore your training programme is probably well balanced & your recovery is on point. As long as you know you’re progressing session to session & not hitting a plateau then stick with your programme & keep going.
Soreness occurs in cardio training too & again it’s important to start slow & steady then gradually increase the intensity & either distance or time you work for so your body can adapt over time. Otherwise, you’re going to feel like you’re hitting a brick wall!
It’s important to remember too that everyone is different so you may find your friend Sue experiences DOM’s but you don’t that isn’t a bad thing & focusing on your own performance, tracking results & your recovery is important here to know how you're progressing.
For some of us, myself included I know I really feel my DOM’s on the 2nd day so 48 hours after the session I will feel it more than the day after immediately. This is where knowing your body is key so DOMs don’t interrupt your training plans for the rest of your week.
When we are then planning to ride in the evenings or take 3 horses schooling being excessively sore is not helpful, if anything it’s going to be counterproductive & remember the whole reason you’re training hard is to benefit your riding so consider that too! A little bit of a wince first thing in the morning is fine but feeling so achy you can’t bend down to pick out your ponies feet is not functional training.
As long as you understand soreness is the response to creating damage & also probably overworking then you can manage your recovery & diet around your week to help you handle the fatigue. If you’re consistently sore I would question your training programme & look at maybe speaking to a coach to understand where you’re potentially overdoing things.
Think about it-the aim after a gallop session for our horse's pre-season isn’t to make them feel sore as hell is it?
No, you wouldn’t go for a 1hr’s jumping lesson when they’ve only done walk work for 4 weeks so apply the same sensible & gradual approach to your training & exercise too. If your horse's muscles & joints were constantly sore & fatigued at some point he’s going to break & the same thing will happen to you.