As the great CrossFit champion Rich Froning said,
“During training you listen to your body, during competition you tell it to shut up.”
But what about after and in between?
With the CrossFit Open in progress, each week brings a new workout intended to test your body’s capabilities—a mix of high volume and high intensity, which is a recipe for extreme post-workout soreness.
As you hobble around over the weekend, you may ask yourself why you chose to torture yourself, but more importantly what the heck you can do to help alleviate your muscle soreness. This pain you experience after a harsh workout is known as DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, and the science on what it is and how it happens is surprisingly unknown.
What we do know is that DOMS generally lasts between 24-72 hours and its severity depends on both the intensity of the workout and your current level of training. Simply put, the better conditioned you are, the better you can mitigate the pain.
But, intuitively, you probably already knew that. And since you can’t improve to Games-level in five weeks, what can you do to help relieve the pain? The following five tips should help you recover just a bit faster—maybe even fast enough to allow for a Monday re-test.
Sleep is the most important recovery tool available to the body. During sleep, the body gets to work by clearing toxic metabolites and by repairing microtrauma from mechanical stress—i.e. doing 55 weighted squats. Focus on getting 7-9 hours each night.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any specific foods that can help with DOMS. There are a few studies, however, that point to turmeric—a potent antioxidant—as capable of speeding up the recovery process, but the data is still relatively new.
Your best bet is to continue to eat your normal diet and ensure you’re getting enough protein as it’s critical for the muscle repair process. And while that post-18.2 beer tastes Godsent, you’ll want to avoid excessive alcohol consumption as it both dehydrates and taxes the body’s recovery system.
Taking vitamin D won’t stop the pain from DOMS, but if you’re vitamin D deficient, you’ll experience a greater degree of pain for a longer period of time. Get 15 minutes in the sun or make take 3000 - 5000 IUs of a vitamin D supplement per day.
Blood flow is the great healer. By simply moving your body, you increase your blood flow, which helps drive out toxins. Look to do mostly cyclical work at a very easy pace, like going on a walk or bike ride, rollerblading, or hoping on the assault bike or rower. You should work up a nice sweat by the end, but shouldn’t feel taxed afterwards. Recovery pieces can be anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes.
You can also stimulate blood flow by heating a particular muscle group. Use a heating pad for 15-20 minutes to help reduce pain.
Ibuprofen is pain reliever. While it won’t cure DOMS or reduce its length, it will reduce the amount of pain associated with it, which will improve your quality of life so you’re not moaning every time you have to stand up or use the toilet.
You may be asking, what about foam rolling, stretching and/or massage?
Surprisingly, the science says these won’t work. While myofascial work is great for dealing with soreness from muscle knots, it does little to speed up recovery from DOMS. Believe me, I’ve spent hours working out painful spots post-Open workouts and the results have been almost non-existent.
Our understanding of DOMS is so limited that truly effective strategies to deal with the pain is unknown, but the above advice should help you move down the pain scale from “It hurts to breathe” to “I see you’re walking with a noticeable limp”.