150 GHDs, 100 pullups, Barbara, or 400m of lunge steps. There are plenty of workouts and exercises in Crossfit that leave us feeling a bit incapacitated. It may feel bad after the workout, but trying to get out of bed the next morning can be a horrible reminder of the punishment you put your body through. This kind of muscle soreness is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Peak soreness usually happens at 18-24 hours but can vary for each person. DOMS happens when your body is exposed to a stressor that it is not accustomed to. The greater the stressor and the less prepared the body is, the more significant the DOMS will be. With the wide variety of things we subject ourselves to with Crossfit, it is only a matter of time before you experience DOMS (if you haven’t already).
When you wake up in the morning and find that you can’t sit-up, or walking down the stairs gets scary as your legs give out with each step, what should you do? There are several different ways to shorten the length of the soreness and decrease it’s intensity.
1) Drink a lot of water – Re-hydrating your body is key to flushing out the left over lactic acid and getting your system supple and mobile again. Many of the artificial sweeteners actually act as a diuretic and rob your body of fluids. Stick to straight water and drink 4-5 large glasses a day. As with most of the advice here, this is something you should be doing daily anyway, but this works to alleviate DOMS too.
2) Stretching and mobility – Getting your tissues moving again is important. Ideally, you are doing this regularly to minimize soreness, but there is no time to start like the present. Whether you do yoga, foam rolling or just squatting, take those sore muscles through their full range of motion. If you need any help figuring out what to do to mobilize, look up mobilitywod.com. This is Kelley Starret’s site and is an amazing source of information for getting the most efficient movement out of your body.
3) Get back into the gym – A research study (1) recently cited on 70sbig.com shows the benefit of returning to exercise within 24-48 hours. What exercises you do, however, needs to be carefully programmed. Stick with easy and light repetitions of body weight movements targeting the areas of soreness. If your legs are sore: slow and easy air squats. If your back is sore from deadlifts: try those goodmornings we recently learned. Upper body soreness: pushups. If you hurt everywhere, try for 2-3 slow rounds of 15 reps of pullups, pushups, squats, situps and goodmornings. Get in a light run or maybe you can make it back in for another workout at Fury but go at 80% and treat it as a recovery day. Most importantly, spending your day on the couch or desk chair is a bad idea. There is no better medicine than getting moving again.
4) Lay off the Ibuprofen – Your body knows how to recover and heal itself. Ibuprofen does not target the sore areas of your body. It thins all of your blood and affects all of your tissues, whether they are affected or not. Let your body heal itself. Save Ibuprofen for those rare times when you are truly injured or sick and feverish.
5) Contrast Shower – This came from John Welbourn at Crossfitfootball.com. Similar to an ice bath, you alternate between scalding hot and freezing cold water in your shower. Spend about 2-3 minutes on each step and cycle through no fewer than 5 times (hot+cold = 1 cycle). Always start on hot and end on cold. WARNING: This is not for the faint of heart. I tell you from experience, it takes incredible will power and grit to stick with this one. Make the water as hot and cold as you possibly can. If you know that DOMS is likely, do this right after the workout and make the effect of DOMS much less significant. Doing this the next day, however, can still be helpful.
If you have had a layoff from Crossfit for a while, you know what to expect. Start off reasonably. Don’t expect to pick up where you left off. Go after your first week at 80% and just try to hang in through the rough return. You will have some soreness, but now you know how to manage it and recover as quickly as possible.
(1) McHugh, M.P.; Connolly, D.A.J.; Eston, R.G.; Gleim, G.W. (1999). Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage and Potential Mechanisms for the Repeated Bout Effect. Sports Medicine, Volume 27, Number 3, 1 March 1999, pp. 157-170 (14).