So, you're a bit sore

This is one of those times of the year when people are either returning to their long lost exercise routines or trying to get active for the first time.  It may be clichéd but January is resolution time for a lot of people.  Hey whatever your motivation is I’m just glad you’re adding some more healthy behaviors to your life.  If that included some gym time or some running for the first time in a long time (or ever) you may be experiencing the phenomenon of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).  DOMS has been known to end many fitness journeys before they even really get going.  It can be debilitating in terms of the pain and stiffness it can induce.  You likely had to take a few days off, which have turned into a week and consequently killed any momentum you had going in this exercise thing. 

            First lets learn about what DOMS is, knowledge is power!  The muscles in your body are accustomed to and adapted for the activities you normally do.  When you do something novel with your muscles such as lifting weights, a new stress is placed on them that they are not adapted for.  This new stress will cause microscopic damage to the cells of your muscles.  It is this damage that is most commonly believed to be the cause of DOMS[1].  These are like tiny injuries and all injuries lead to an inflammatory response involving swelling, heat, redness, altered function and pain.  Why would your body do this to you?  Well, this is a necessary and natural process that helps your muscles get bigger and stronger.  So while it seems like a bad thing at the time its actually a good thing as long as you are able to continue with your daily life while its happening.  The pain from DOMS usually peaks 48 to 72 hours post exercise[2].  The discomfort you feel while actually working out is not DOMS but generally the more discomfort you experience during a workout the worse your DOMS will be.  DOMS is most attributed to eccentric muscle contractions or very intense isometric contractions[3].  Eccentric contractions refer to movements where a load is placed on a muscle while it is lengthening.  Think the lowering part of a biceps curl.  Isometric contractions occur when a muscle contracts against a load but no movement occurs.  Think of holding that biceps curl at the midpoint as long as you can.  Running downhill places much more eccentric load on the muscles in your legs in comparison to running uphill, hence why you get more sore after running downhill than running uphill.  Increased repetitions and increased loads will increase the amount of damage done to muscles. 

            Now that you know why you’re so sore let’s talk about what you can do about it.  Unfortunately this is where the news isn’t so great.  Once you have a good case of DOMS going on there is very little evidence that any of the interventions normally prescribed have any real impact on levels of pain or duration of symptoms.  Studies done on ice water baths[4] and stretching[5] have shown no real impact on DOMS.  NSAID’s such as ibuprofen will reduce pain from DOMS for a period of time but will not decrease the length of symptoms and may negatively impact the necessary healing process that is the underlying cause of DOMS[6].  Low intensity exercise has been shown to decrease discomfort during the exercise and for a short period of time afterward but DOMS symptoms return a short time after[7].  Lastly, massage has been shown to decrease the swelling caused by DOMS thought to be partly responsible for the associated pain.  This aids recovery, as with any injury where swelling is present, significant reductions in pain seem to be transient however[8]

            So what can you do to ease this painful condition?  A certain amount of DOMS is probably unavoidable when beginning novel exercise routines, however it doesn’t have to be debilitating.  For resistance exercises, stick to one set of repetitions and don’t go to complete failure the first time you try an exercise.  Keep your exercise tempo moderate; mainly you don’t want to do really slow eccentric contractions at first.  For instance when doing a squat, don’t go too slow on the lowering part at first.  Once you are accustomed to the exercise you can start to play with long eccentrics as they do have a place in weight training.  If you are doing some running for the first time in a while or at all, make sure it’s on a flat surface or even uphill as opposed to downhill.  Downhill running will make you sore due to the increased eccentric loads placed on your muscles.  Essentially, take it easy for the first few workouts back.  The temptation is to get back into the gym with a fury.  A more moderate approach will allow you to get more work done in that first week than doing one hard workout and then not being able to move for 48-72 hours!

            Finally, if you have a raging case of DOMS and you want to feel better for a while, hop on a bike or elliptical for and easy cardio session.  You should start to sweat a bit but keep it to 20 minutes or so, it should feel fairly effortless.  You’ll be feeling a bit better now so do some very light stretching if you wish.  Now head to your favourite RMT and get a light effleurage massage (they will know what to do).  After that go for a long walk and stay moving as long as you want to feel better because as soon as you sit down your DOMS will come back until your muscles are healed.  Next time just take it easy for the first few workouts!





[4] Gulick D.T. et al.  Various Treatment Techniques on Signs and Symptoms of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  Journal of Athletic Training.  June 1996 P.  145-152.  31(2)

Sellwood K.L. et al.  Ice‐water immersion and delayed‐onset muscle soreness: a randomised controlled trial.  British Journal of Sports Medicine.

 June 2007 p.  392-397.  41(6)


[5]  Gulick D.T. et al.  Various Treatment Techniques on Signs and Symptoms of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  Journal of Athletic Training.  June 1996 P.  145-152.  31(2)


[6] Gulick D.T. et al.  Various Treatment Techniques on Signs and Symptoms of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  Journal of Athletic Training.  June 1996 P.  145-152.  31(2)


[7] Gulick D.T. et al.  Various Treatment Techniques on Signs and Symptoms of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  Journal of Athletic Training.  June 1996 P.  145-152.  31(2)


[8] Ernst, E.  Does post-exercise massage treatment reduce delayed onset muscle soreness? A systematic review.  British Journal of Sports Medicine.  1998 p. 212-214.  32.

Weight loss

Weight Loss


Weight loss is easily the number one most common goal in any new personal training client that I see, even if they don’t say so.  Many people would like to lose a few pounds of fat whether they want to acknowledge it or not.  Our motivations for weight loss can be different.  Some people may come to this decision for health reasons, while others are motivated by aesthetics or some other reason personal to them.  The specific motivation and what type of motivation that is (intrinsic vs extrinsic) is very important for achieving any goal but I’m not going to get into that for this discussion. 


For this post I just want to talk about the physiology of how to lose weight.  I’ll start with some background info so we have an understanding of some of the basics of metabolism.  Your body needs energy to survive and work properly.  The energy your body uses comes from the food you eat.  The measurement for this energy is the dietary calorie (calorie), one calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water one degree Celsius. 


The foods we eat have varying amounts of calories depending on their composition.  Food comes in three basic forms called macronutrients:  1.  Protein 2.  Carbohydrate 3. Fat

Protein and carbohydrate contain 4 calories per gram, while fat contains 9 calories per gram. 


Metabolism in a basic sense refers to how many calories your body uses to function.  The tissues in your body use energy to function, how this happens is a long discussion that we don’t need to get into right now.  Tissues such as muscle use calories while fat does not, fat is actually an energy reserve.  The muscles of your body use lots of calories while they are working, therefore a body that has more muscle mass will have a higher metabolism.  Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) represents the amount of calories your body will use to simply survive in a day.  Your activity level will add to this amount.  You can calculate your BMR with this equation:


For men: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) + 5

For women: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) – 161


(if math is not your thing you can find calculators online that will do the work for you – just search BMR calculator!)


You can now use the Harris Benedict formula to calculate your daily caloric needs based on your activity level.


   If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2

   If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375


   If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55

   If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725

If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9


(note:  these calculations are estimates to be used as a guide)


When you know these basic principles, weight control becomes easy to at least understand.  You eat food to acquire calories for the cells of the tissues in your body to use.  Your body will use a certain amount of calories in a day that can vary depending on how much activity you do.  If you consume more calories in a day than your body uses, it will store those calories as fat.  If you consume less calories in a day than you use, your body will access its calorie reserves in the form of fat and sometimes protein.  In the most basic way this is how you gain or lose weight.  Consume more than you use and you gain weight, consume less than you use and you lose weight, it’s that simple.


So why is it so hard to lose weight?  The reasons are abundant and different for everyone but I believe that education is the foundation to overcome weight control issues.  Counting calories is not a weight loss strategy that generally works very well on its own, however knowing how your body works in at least a basic sense is the first step to healthy and sustainable weight loss.


Next post, strategies for weight control.