Tag Archives: return to exercise

Dealing with DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

I was at Blush dance studios on Friday for a taster session of aerial hoops and pole dancing. It was great fun, I was pleased with all that I could do (may not have been effortless but at least I could do it!!) and I loved trying something completely new.

I really expected to be covered in bruises the next day as I could feel them forming but what I didn’t expect was just how much I would ache!

This is the known as DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – and is usually experienced when:

  • trying out a new activity
  • upping the intensity in your normal routine – heavier weights, longer runs
  • getting back into exercise after a long break

What causes DOMS?

When I first trained as a fitness instructor I was taught that DOMS was caused by a build up of lactic acid in the muscles but now that’s not thought to be the case.  Instead causes are:

  • Tiny tears in the muscle fibres
  • Changes in the balance of enzymes in the muscle

It’s worth keeping in mind what activities you will have to do afterwards – soreness is usually worse the 24-72 hours after the exercise. I had a weekend to recover but driving was painful as my biceps hurt so much it was hard to pull the handbrake on!!

So if you’re looking after a baby for example, you don’t want to push it too far your first time back and find you can’t cope with lifting a car seat, bending to change nappies or getting up off the floor! And it doesn’t mean you haven’t worked hard enough if you don’t feel it – DOMS is an extreme response and can be avoided by building up slowly.

If you do feel sore, best ways to deal with it:

  1. hydration – drink plenty of water
  2. warm bath/shower
  3. massage – by hand, massage stick or foam roller
  4. sauna (yes please!)
  5. magnesium – can use a spray direct onto area, Epsom salts in the bath (see number 2) or take orally
  6. low intensity exercise – for example gentle walking or swimming

Stretching has not been shown to be effective for DOMS. It is fine to exercise the next day though – it can temporarily alleviate the soreness and won’t make things worse.

The good news is that one bout of DOMS is supposed to protect you for the future. So next time won’t be as bad – so don’t let DOMS put you off!!

When can I run again?

If you search the internet for the answer to starting running again after baby you may well be confused by the information out there.  There are some people who are back to their normal regime way before 6 weeks postpartum, others who advocate avoiding all sorts of exercise.  So what’s right for you?

First up you shouldn’t return to formal exercise until 6 weeks postnatal (8-10 if you’ve had a caesarean) and you should be getting the all clear from your doctor, although I know some doctors wait to combine your check-up with babies 8 week check.  And some doctors don’t do them at all now.

However once you’ve had your check that doesn’t mean you can just start up where you left off.  At 6 weeks only the initial healing of your body has been completed – full healing could take a year or more!

Returning to impact exercise too early can reduce pelvic floor strength and lead to incontinence or prolapse so it is worth taking things slowly and building up gradually.

So once you’ve had your check, and assuming you have no pelvic floor issues or diastasis, it is fine to introduce low impact exercise and specific postnatal classes.  Body conditioning classes are also fine but need to be lower weights and avoid direct work on your stomach muscles (i.e. no sit-ups or crunches or planks).  Over the next few weeks you can gradually increase the intensity and the weights.

And then what, what’s the magic number of when you can start running/crunching/go to hardcore classes?

Unfortunately there is no definitive answer.  Some say 4 months, others 6, still others a year.  I thought I’d been conservative waiting 5 months after a C-section before then teaching a high impact aerobics class.  I wasn’t and I prolapsed because of it, despite having no warning signs so I do tend to err on the side of caution with mums who come along to classes.

So the only real answer to “when?” has to be – listen to your body.  If you have any pelvis or lower back pain after exercise, a feeling of heaviness in the vagina, any bulging or straining or doming of the stomach or the pelvic floor or any leaking these are all a sign that that exercise is too much for you at this particular time.  As is shaking during an exercise or breath holding.  Doesn’t mean this will be for always – just at the moment your body isn’t ready and you need to modify the exercise until you are stronger.

This should apply whenever you’re exercising not just in the early postnatal period.  Your form is the most important thing to be mindful of when exercising and how your body is feeling.  There is always a way to make an exercise easier or to bring the intensity down.

Other things to bear in mind when exercising:

  • tiredness – fatigue can lead to injury as you push yourself through
  • sore breasts – if you can feed before exercise that can help.  A decent sports bra is important too.  There is such a thing as a feeding sports bra although they can be quite expensive.
  • loose joints – the effects of pregnancy hormones on your joints can last around 3 months post birth.  If you’re breastfeeding the effects are thought to last until 3 months after you finish feeding.

So bear these in mind when you want to start a particular exercise regime.  You can practice exhaling on exertion and lifting the pelvic floor before the 6 weeks (once any perineal damage is healed) – this way the core is protected and you will be rebuilding the body from inside out!

Pelvic floor first is a great website that’s worth visiting.  Their Returning to sport pdf gives a timeline of what’s recommended at various stages.

And remember, all my classes are pelvic floor and tummy safe!