Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mastering Muscle Soreness

Muscle Soreness
An alarm clock wakes you up from the middle of a sound slumber. It's time to go but your eyes are heavy and your body wants to go back to sleep. You swivel your legs over the side of the bed and stand up as a wave of pain passes over your body. An aggressive met-con or weights workout has left you with a serious case of post-workout muscles soreness but you know you've got to perform again later in the day. As you make some coffee you ponder how to get your body ready for the next workout...

Sound familiar? 

Days like these used to be commonplace for me, I've had more of these than I can count. 20 or 30 hours a week of sprinting, jumping, throwing, and lifting can do that to you. My experiences have led me through necessity to find the best methods of accelerating recovering from strenuous exercise. Although the exact cellular causes of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) are currently unknown, it doesn't really matter because this stuff works regardless of what is going on. 

Maximizing Recovery
After being forced to seek out the best methods of recovery and for mitigating muscle soreness. Here are the things that worked for me, with the most effective first. Note that what will be most effective for you is probably whatever aspect you are currently most deficient in.

  • Sleeping a lot: Try to get 9.5 hours of sleep a night in a totally dark and quiet room. Magnesium and melatonin help a lot with this. Natural Calm is by far the most effective magnesium supplement I've found... 2-3 tsps in a cup of hot water an hour before bed really chills me out. Everyone I've given it to raves about it. Time release melatonin is you best bet, as I have found that I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with the instant release. 
  • Eating for recovery: This means follow the same basic guidelines: Plenty of protein, fat, and avoiding inflammatory foods (grains, sugar, n-6 PUFA). If your pretty lean, some sweet potatoes or yams will also accelerate recovery. Drink a lot of water. If you are someone who tolerates dairy products, a couple glasses of whole milk after a hard workout is a powerful recovery agent. My favorite is goat milk as it tends to be less allergenic and insuligenic according to Robb Wolf. 
  • Massage work: This one is critical. Using various massage tools and information from the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, I felt like I was given a new body without any of the previous aches, pains, and stiffness. Crucial for increasing sports performance. Most versatile are a foam roller and a lacrosse ball. Can be done before, after, or during workouts. I do one to three 5-15 minute massage sessions on most days. A Tiger tail and Theracane have also been extremely beneficial for me. Best is if you can find a good partner to trade massages with.
  • Warming up right: Doing dynamic mobility work and making sure my muscles are hot helps a lot for preventing excessive soreness. Magnificent Mobility by Eric Cressey is a great place to start. 
  • Recovery workouts: Do something that takes out the eccentric motion of exercise, which creates most of the soreness. Pulling a sled is one of my favorites.
  • Enzymes: In-season I noticed that some systemic enzymes like wobenzym or something similar decreased muscle soreness a lot. However, once my CRP (systemic inflammation levels) got really low from diet and sleep, the enzymes no longer had the same benefit. Same thing with the tumeric- works if your inflammation levels are high, effects drop off as inflammation is lower.
  • Heat: I never found much of a benefit from ice baths. They did make muscles less painful in the short term (numb) but didn't accelerate recovery at all. I did them every day for 3 months then stopped and noticed no difference in recovery. Heat always worked better for recovery for me.
  • Don't do stupid shit: If you just did heavy deadlifts yesterday and go out to flip a 300lb tire for a 100 meters, this is counterproductive, you are a dumbass, and you will be painfully sore for a week. Don't ask how I know this. 
Any other ideas? Leave a comment and let me know what has worked for you.


  1. Love your blog Tyler. I'm curious if you could direct me to any literature supporting the use of massage therapy in athletic training? In Sports Massage: A comprehensive review, in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, Moraska talks about the lack of comprehensive studies in this field. It seems most studies focus on increasing perfusion, could this not be done adequately through other measures?

  2. Hi and thanks!

    My opinion on the effectiveness of massage is mostly from first hand experience on myself and other members of the track team during extremely heavy training periods, and from reading lots of recovery articles from strength and conditioning coaches such as Eric Cressey, Mike Boyle, Mike Robertson, anything off EliteFTS and many more.

    I haven't spent a lot of time looking for scholarly research on the subject because the research findings tend to be at least 10 years behind the practices of the best coaches and massage therapists. However, two recent studies do come to mind.

    A 2009 study showed that manual therapy was a promising modality for treating athletes with chronic groin strains- 83% of the athletes reported excellent satisfaction with the technique.

    A randomized and controlled clinical study from October 2010 compared exercise therapy and manual therapy (massage). Researchers looked at how long it took athletes to return to play after a groin injury. The results are impressive: Athletes receiving the manual therapy returned to competition 4.5 weeks sooner than the athletes given standard exercise therapy.

    I think we will see more studies confirming these results in the near future.

  3. Nice post Tyler. You might also be interested in the effects of drinking coffee in relation to DOMS.

  4. Thanks JD, this is really interesting. I'm going to update the article to reflect this and run a couple of little experiments.


  5. Taking BCAA before and after training seems to have all but eliminated DOMS for me.

  6. Hi Alan- Thanks for pointing that out. I experienced similar effects when taking BCAA's and there has been some really good research in the last year confirming this in controlled trials. Somehow I forgot about this, thanks for pointing it out. I will update the article with some BCAA info.

    What BCAA protocol do you use?

    Is that you in your picture?

    Thanks for reading,


  7. Nice post. To agree with what you said about heat/ice, ice works well for me when I have obvious, local inflammation (e.g. swollen bruises). Other than that, it does nothing for me. So, for muscle soreness, heat is good. For injury, alternating heat/cold works for me.

  8. Hey Jeremiah- thanks for commenting. I think it's interesting that the standard treatment for muscle soreness is ice, but anecdotally I hear many more people (me and you included) favor heat. What's the disconnect here?

  9. Have you used Glutamine in a post-workout shake to aid in recovery and/or reduce muscle soreness?
    Thanks in advance.

  10. Thanks for commenting-

    RE glutamine:

    I don't use post-workout shakes anymore and also have not tried glutamine. I have read a fair amount on using glutamine for recovery and can't say that I have found a lot of positive findings in the literature.

    That being said, glutamine is the main fuel for the intestinal repair, and I believe this would be the best use for it.

    This could certainly impact recovery- if you're not absorbing nutrients, your body will hit a bottleneck for muscle repair. There's a fair amount of anecdotal reports of glutamine helping with muscle soreness, but its hard to know if we should trust these.

    There has been some convincing research lately that BCAAs right before training can greatly decrease muscle soreness.

    If you have any info on glutamine, send it my way.



  11. How and where would one go to purchase these BCAAs? Also is there any particular protocol regarding the taking of BCAAs?