Updated: Apr 13, 2020
It’s the morning after a tough dance class or TT class. As you wake up and start to move around, the feeling hits you--SORE MUSCLES! Your legs feel heavy and stiff, and even the smallest movement ignites an ache throughout the entire muscle. But what causes this feeling? What can we do to get rid of the soreness?
Why do we get sore?
Most, if not all, training programs (including Target Training) are based on the principle of overload: to improve performance, muscles must be pushed outside of their ‘comfort zone'. Overloading actually breaks up fibers in your existing muscles, with damage ranging from small disruptions in individual fibers to larger tears in the connective tissue within the muscle (1). This tissue damage and subsequent repair - by building new muscle around it - is responsible for the sore muscles you feel the morning after a tough workout - known scientifically as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
What happens to our muscles when we are sore?
When any of your tissues are damaged, your body initiates an inflammatory response to repair the tissue and restore function (2). This response includes sending specialized cells that repair tissue as well as increasing blood flow to the area. Muscles are no different. Current research shows a significant increase in inflammation markers in muscle following exercise (2,3).
What should we do when we’re sore?
In sports as high-intensity as Irish dance, particularly leading up to major competitions, repeated bouts of exercise with inadequate recovery are common, so strategies to enhance recovery are critical (2). You’ve probably heard dozens of recommendations from your teachers, coaches, or fellow dancers on ways to reduce soreness in the days following a long workout, but none of them will be that ‘magic wand’ that gets rid of your soreness in a moment’s notice. Your muscles need to heal when you’re sore, and while that takes time, there are evidence based strategies you can use to help your body do what it does better.
Eating protein after a long training session has been shown to enhance recovery of muscle function - heal the symptoms of DOMS faster - and reduce muscle protein damage from your workout (3). All protein is made of amino acids - a key biological building block, especially of muscle. To repair damaged muscle, your body takes up unused amino acids from your bloodstream and uses them to build new muscle. By eating a high-protein food, you increase the amount of free amino acids available to your body for recovery, meaning you’ll spend less time feeling sore (3). This is one of many reasons why chocolate milk is recommended as a recovery drink! Its high protein content (and carbohydrate content - another key muscle-building element) make it a great post-dance snack.
Foam rolling is one of our favorite techniques here at Target Training. This form of “self myofascial release” (SMR) works to stretch and loosen the fascia - connective tissue surrounding your muscles - so you can move more freely. If this fascia becomes too tight, it can cause soreness and limit your range of motion. Self-applying pressure through the use of a foam roller can increase circulation to that area, bringing good things like oxygen and amino acids to your muscles and removing its waste, like carbon dioxide. Check out THIS Target Training article for some great foam rolling exercises!
Ice baths are a widely used method of reducing DOMS, particularly in elite athletes. The combination of ice and hydrostatic pressure (pressure exerted by the water on your submerged legs) triggers multiple physiological responses that reduce pain perception and facilitate recovery. However, there isn’t much research to support the use of cold water immersion with younger athletes. The current theory is pre-pubertal athletes recover quicker than adult athletes, due to their higher relative muscle flexibility - making them less susceptible to muscle damage - so they experience less muscle soreness and have less need for recovery techniques, like ice baths (2). This doesn’t mean you can’t take an ice bath as a younger athlete - it just means you might want to think twice before you jump in a cold tub!
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1. Houghton, D., & Onambele, G.L. (2012). Can a standard dose of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) supplementation reduce the symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(2). doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-9-2.
2. Murray, A. & Cardinale, M. (2015). Cold applications for recovery in adolescent athletes: a systematic review and meta analysis. Extreme Physiology & Medicine, 4(17). doi: 10.1186/s13728-015-0035-8.
3. Ives, S.J., Bloom, S., Matias, A., Morrow, N., Martins, N., Roh, Y., Ebenstein, D., … & Arciero, P.J. (2017). Effects of a combined protein and antioxidant supplement on recovery of muscle function and soreness following eccentric exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(21). doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0179-6.