ACTIVE RECOVERY OR REST DAY? MINIMISING SORE MUSCLES

WRITTEN BY SAM ROONEY

Contributer - Accredited Exercise Physiologist

A combination of sleep, nutrition and hydration gives your body the best chance to recover, repair and rebuild.

Of all the recovery modalities out there that you may have heard about, nothing replaces adequate sleep.

It has been shown that athletes who sleep less than 8 hours per night are 1.7x more likely to experience injury than those who sleep 8 hours or more. Good quality sleep is where your body has the greatest opportunity to repair the damage caused during physical activity and is an often-overlooked aspect in reaching your goals.

If you are struggling with your sleep then make sure you research sleep hygiene and see where you can improve your sleep habits.

Nutrition and hydration are another often overlooked aspect of recovery. Without adequate nutrition and hydration, your body lacks the energy and resources to adapt and remodel stronger tissue.

Drinking water and eating good quality food will assist in reducing digestive stress and systemic inflammation along with providing enough fuel to get you through your workout.

Additional recovery methods such as massage, sauna, compression, ice baths etc. all have their place and benefits, however these are what I would consider to be smaller priorities and should be a second priority to your larger priorities of sleep, nutrition and hydration.

Make sure your foundations are solid before adding anything on top.

"When it comes to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), prevention is always better than cure."

AVOIDING SORE MUSCLES: TAKING IT SLOW AND BUILDING UP TO IT

When it comes to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), prevention is always better than cure. Whilst sometimes unavoidable, DOMS is often a sign that you have pushed too hard during your session. Each session should lead into the next and build day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month.

The definitive cause of DOMS remains unknown, however it is thought to be a result of mechanical and metabolic stress (damage to the muscle fibres and the presence of chemical by-products from muscle contraction & energy expenditure) resulting in short-term swelling, pain, nervous system sensitisation and reduced function. It is typically experienced 24-48 hours after an unusually intense session, or a session including new movements that the body may not be conditioned to.

As there is no definitive reason identified for the cause of DOMS, it is difficult to identify the most effective way of treating DOMS (apart from prevention in the first place). The following have been shown to have some effect on reducing DOMS, however typically time and gentle movement are your best friends:

  • Ensure you warm-up and warm-down effectively
  • Adequate nutrition and hydration day-in day-out. Not just before and after physical activity
  • Massage
  • Compression
  • Stretching / gentle movement

HOW MANY TIMES PER WEEK SHOULD I LIFT WEIGHTS?

This greatly depends on the individual’s goals and training history. The recommended exercise guidelines are to accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, with muscle strengthening activities completed on two of those days. These are the general recommendations from the Australian Department of Health however, and will need to be amended to correctly reflect your goals.

In general, if you are training 4-5 times per week I would recommend that you complete 3-4 strength sessions and 1-2 cardio or cross training sessions. If you are unsure of how to structure your training, make sure you speak to an Exercise Physiologist for advice.

"Stretching is an often misused and misunderstood part of physical activity."

WHEN SHOULD I STRETCH? AFTER OR BEFORE EXERCISING?

Stretching is an often misused and misunderstood part of physical activity.

Static stretching (where you hold a stretch for an extended period of time without moving) has been shown to actually decrease muscle contractibility and performance in the short term, potentially reducing your performance immediately following. For example, if you hold a quad stretch for 60 seconds immediately before performing a squat, you will likely find that your strength and power is reduced. This is due to the effect that the static stretch has on reducing nervous system excitability to the stretched muscle. Essentially, it turns down the power dial.

Dynamic stretching, however, has been shown to have some benefits on performance. This is likely due to improved activation and mobility through an increased range of motion.

  • Ensure you warm-up and warm-down effectively
  • Adequate nutrition and hydration day-in day-out. Not just before and after physical activity
  • Massage
  • Compression
  • Stretching / gentle movement

Foam rolling and self-myofascial release (SMR) also have a role to play in managing range of motion and muscle soreness, although the exact mechanism of how this works is yet to be proven. The most likely reason is that foam rolling reduces neural tension, allowing for reduced stiffness and improved range of motion. Unfortunately, this improved range of motion is only short-term so you are best-off performing dynamic stretches and moving your body through it’s full range of motion in order to improve your mobility in the long term. The reduction in neural tone will also assist to provide short-term relief from muscle stiffness.

IS IT ALRIGHT TO GO TO THE GYM EVERYDAY?

When it comes to the gym, less is often more.

If you are not achieving your goals in 3-5 sessions per week then you are better off looking at the outside factors (nutrition, recovery, training design/intensity) rather than adding in extra days at the gym. Training every day puts you at risk of overtraining and therefore you significantly increase your risk of injury, burnout and reduced performance. Having 1-2 rest days throughout the week will reduce your risk of injury and increase your ability to train at the intensity required to elicit physical changes.

Without adequate recovery, you are unlikely to reap the full benefits of your hard work in the gym. Whilst you work hard in the gym, it is your downtime and recovery (sleep!) that allows the body to adapt in response to the training stimulus. Without this downtime, your body is unable to adapt and grow stronger.

If you are the type of person who feels the need to be active each day, make sure that two of these activities are low-stress and low-impact such as walking, swimming or yoga. Consider these an active recovery day and something that will support your heavier lifting days.