TriRadar coaching editor, Phil Mosley, gives us his expert advice on how to beat muscle soreness.
Sore muscles are part of being a triathlete. However, there’s a difference between normal aches and pains, and soreness that’s still painful to the touch two days later. Training in this state leads to changes in your running gait, reductions in strength and power, altered muscle recruitment patterns and an increased risk of injury.
Sports scientists refer to it as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS for short. There’s plenty of research on it, because it’s so common across many sports, particularly in the early season when athletes are returning to training after a break.
As a triathlete you’re most likely to experience it after high-intensity workouts and races, although you can get it after long slow runs too. Your first thought when encountering DOMS might be “no pain, no gain” but this philosophy won’t do you much good.
In fact, many professional athletes go out of their way to avoid pain. For example, Olympic triathlete and former world champion Tim Don runs on grass playing fields, as it enables him to complete regular workouts with less soreness, compared to running on roads. Similarly, Olympic medal-winning runners Gaylen Rupp and Mo Farah supplement their training with underwater treadmill running. In their eyes, the less time you spend being sore, the more training you can do.
There are several things you can to avoid and treat muscle soreness. This feature will show you the most effective.
Avoid Muscle Soreness
1. The 10% rule
The rule is that you should avoid any run that’s more than 10% further than the longest run you did in the previous month. Similarly, you shouldn’t increase the duration of any high-intensity reps sessions by more than 10%. While you’re at it, your total running mileage for the month shouldn’t be more than 10% higher than the previous month.
Not only is the 10% rule useful for avoiding soreness, but it’s an effective way to steer clear of injuries too.
2. Mix it up
Rather than doing all your running on roads and pavements, try to include some runs on soft ground or on a treadmill. This will stress your muscles in a different way to running on roads and should reduce the likelihood of soreness, providing you stick to the 10% rule, that is.
3. Know when to stop
If your legs are particularly sore during a run, stop and walk home or call for a lift. There is no training benefit beyond this point. Once you’re sore, you will only compound the problem by carrying on.
If you’re in a group or club training session, it can be harder to stop because you don’t want to look like a quitter. In these situations you need to be strong and listen to your body. You’ll come back faster and fitter if you do.
4. Eat now
We say this a lot in Triathlon Plus, because it’s so important. You should eat a meal as soon as possible after training, as it’ll help you recover better and faster. If you don’t want a meal, have a recovery snack or drink. Then tuck into a meal later.
Treat Muscle Soreness
Research suggests that the best way to beat soreness is to avoid getting it in the first place. There is no clear-cut way of treating it, and many of the popular treatment methods are still debatable. The below methods have shown benefits in some studies and not all.
If you saw the Tour De France TV coverage in 2012, you may have seen Team Sky’s cyclists being interviewed after each stage, while they warmed down on a static trainer. Cyclists believe that this kind of easy riding gives them “good legs” for the next day.
They even train on their rest days for the same reason. Research does show that light exercise can be an effective way to treat muscle soreness, but the effects might only be short lived.
In other words, you’ll feel great while you’re training, but your symptoms will probably return after you stop.
There is some research to show that anti-inflammatory drugs may reduce symptoms of muscle soreness, but there are potential downsides too. Their long-term use has been related to stomach, kidney and liver problems. For similar reasons it’s not good to take them after a race on an empty stomach either, so wait until after you’ve eaten.
There are several research studies indicating that compression garments reduce the symptoms of muscle soreness. You get two types. Standard compression garments reduce oedema (the build-up of fluids within your tissues) that can reduce pain and boost recovery. Graduated compression garments do this too, as well as being tighter further away from the heart to improve blood flow.
4. Ice bath
Despite their widespread use, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that ice baths work. If you’re going to try one, our advice is don’t overdo it. Start by spending 10 minutes in 15°C water. This should be enough to get the benefit and avoid the risks. Another similar method is called contrast therapy, where you alternate hot and cold baths. Try one minute in a cold bath, and two minutes in a hot tub (around 37°C), repeated three times.
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