Skiers beware, it's May and you are likely to catch at least once case of DOMS. Skiers are especially susceptible, and most cases occur in May. Are you at risk? Answer the following questions...
Did you spend most of April goofing off on whatever little bits of snow remained while going on the short easy odd run?
Did you go to the weight room and jump right into bench press, squats and all the usual free weights as soon as your coach allowed?
Have a few days of rest made you itchy to jump right back into dryland training where you left off last fall?
Have you decided to jump into a spring marathon or road race?
If you answered "YES" to any of the questions above, you may be at risk of DOMS, not to mention saying ouch and cursing the month of May (aka the "Month of Pain"). No matter who you are, unless your only activity is channel surfing, you've probably experienced some degree of DOMS. DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness.
You know what it feels like. You wake up in bed and just the weight of the sheets is too much on your legs, your muscles feel like they are on fire, you can't walk up the stairs without whimpering and it hurts just to sit still. And just when you thought your muscles couldn't hurt more, you wake a day later to find it's far worse. Hence the "delayed onset". The pain often peaks 24 to 76 hours after exercising and subsides within a week.
It was once thought that DOMS was caused by lactic acid buildup, but a more recent theory is that it is caused by tiny tears in the muscles and connective tissues. The tears cause swelling which irritates nerves and thus the non-stop pain. But the answer to what causes DOMS still isn't clear.
What is known is that the symptoms are usually worse after eccentric exercises like downhill running, or plyometrics.
While the pain won't kill you, it can be counter productive to your training since DOMS is
accompanied by a loss of strength and decreased range of motion and neuromuscular function. For a long time coaches recommended doing no activity until the pain went away, but it's been shown that further training has no negative effect. But, doing a tough workout (strength, plyometrics or intensity) while your suffering from DOMS is counter-productive. Since your strength is decreased as is your range of motion, you probably won't do the workout technically well and if you aren't careful it can lead to injuries, not to mention uncontrollable whimpering.
So what should you do? There are a few things you can do to alleviate
and prevent DOMS.
I said DOMS was avoidable, but most of us learn that lesson the hard way a few times before that message sinks in. It can take some experience to recognize activities that are going to cause DOMS. To help you recognize DOMS causing activities, I'll share with you my worst DOMS experiences...
1) Telemark skiing - everytime I go! It's like doing 500 lunges in 3 minutes, then either sitting on a chair lift and getting cold for 15 minutes before repeating or climbing back up the hill for 45 minutes. Either way, a day of tele skiing leads to uncomfortable sitting and walking.
2) Karl aided my second "best" case of DOMS. It came a few years before XC Ottawa was founded. Karl and I would meet a few times a week to train. After a few weeks of general strength and plyometrics Karl invited me to test his new strength program with him. Since it was our first attempt at a few of the exercises (hops, jumps, and dynamic stuff) we approached it with caution being DOMS veterans. We only did ~50% of the recommended dosage thinking we were being smart. We were both sore, unable to walk without pain sore, for nearly a week. We eventually laid the blame squarely on one exercise called "frog hops" where you landed on one foot, compressed your chest to your knee while lowering yourself as close to the ground as possible before explosively hopping to do the same on the other leg. Who would have thought 10 repeats of that would have done so much damage to two fairly well trained skiers?
3) My personal worst DOMs case was the result of cabin fever on a beautiful spring day in Thunder Bay. On a day during the exam period when I had a small break two of us decided to seek out the last skiing at the Big Thunder Nordic Center. We were dropped off at the gate while our roommate headed for an exam so we had 3 hours to kill before he returned. To our disappointment the snow had disappeared while we were couped up inside studying so after a quick tour of the trails we were left with lots of time to kill. We decided on a short run, but it was muddy and wet. We decided to end the run climb the ski jump - from the bottom of the landing out-run to the top of the tower where the skiers sit before they jump. We reasoned the view would be spectacular, we be easily able to spot our roomate returning to pick us up... and there way have been some macho "race you to the top" motif as well. The view was spectacular... and so was the DOMS! The agony lasted over a week and had me worried I had done permanent damage. Worse yet my legs twitched constantly, muscles firing alternately in each leg just like I was still climbing stairs. This made it hard to sleep or sit still and concentrate during studying and exams.
So the old adage "No pain, no gain" isn't the smartest when it comes to good training practice. Save the real suffering for races and try to minimize the soreness in your muscles on a regular basis to see the biggest benefits in your training.