Monday, May 13, 2013

4 steps to Work Through DOMS Safely While Exploring Movement.

Ever had DOMS - you know - that really stiff/sore the next day or two (or three) after a workout that had a new twist to it? Ever wonder about working out the same muscles before that soreness is gone?

(If you'd like more on DOMs there's a two part story on delayed onset muscle soreness on b2d, referenced in Related Links, below).  

Never been this far out before - and guess where it was DOMsore, later...

TO address this query, here's a quick 4 step protocol to progress through DOMs that seems so obvious it's stupid. Indeed, it caught me this morning. Thing is, i'm now trying to practice catching this effect ("what is new today and where's its source?) deliberately in each work out.

We'll go over the general bits of what is the protocol, and an example of when to run it, and then we'll go through a worked example, this time with DOMS.

 What is New Today and Where's its Source? What Do i Know? What can i Learn?

This morning's trigger to the "what's new" is feeling sore in a new way in a new place - or in a place i haven't felt DOMS in some time. So that new thing is what i'm calling the protocol Trigger.

Trigger: I'm sore in a particular muscle group - DOMS sore.

The Protocol Response to the Trigger? Four parts: two at the start of a session; two at the end.

  1. explore: try the movement(s) we think may have set off the DOMS, and check which part of the movement feels most restricted (due to soreness, potentially)
  2. think: once we have the range restriction/soreness isolated - think back to what was NEW in that movement the last time we did it. Consider what part of that movement had EXTENSION (stretching out) going on. Question to consider: was this a new movement? or was this a new load? new number of reps? By how much on any of these parameters
  3. return: - make a note in our logs about the observations and then, later in the workout or at the end of the work out when done, come back to this movement just to find out if being all nicely warmed up provides access to the movement again.
  4. relax: consciously remind oneself to breath, to relax into this movement - our natural inclination if we've been sore and triggered something is to tense up to want to protect ourselves. The counter-intuitive cue to relax going into that "sore" range of motion movement may just help us becoming more efficient in this movement.

Worked Example: 

Background: Getting further in an Ab Wheel Roll Out. 

It's monday. Last friday in my workout i tried ab wheel roll outs - haven't worked these for some time. In fact i've been "working" them indirectly via a suggestion from Jon Hinds, developer of the awesome Power Wheel version of an ab wheel (can hook your feet in or use your hands. cool. hell). I'd asked Jon about getting to a standing ab wheel roll out, rather than from knees alone. He said, if you can do 30 knees to elbows (a movement shown in the clip below at about 15:10), then you can do standing roll outs.

 Jon, if you're listening, i tried it, i did three sets of those and no, that didn't result in a standing ab wheel roll out, but i do like the movement. Quad burner. oy. By the way, the whole practice session here with the Wheel is awesome - come back and watch the whole thing and git yerself a powerwheel.

Anyway, i did in fact last friday try the standing ab wheel roll out. Ended up dropping a knee to the mat on the way down, then when stretched out, getting the knee off the mat and rolling back up. Exhausting. Got three of those in.

And then i tried the ab wheel rollouts from the knees. What a surprise - i got full, nose touching to the ground extension in a way i hadn't thought possible before.

Here's how far i'd pretty much made it before:

mc doing an power wheel roll out in Feb 2013
that felt "deep" or extended. 
That may not look it but that felt super elongated. But with seeming effortlessness i was now going much further. Will show you in a minute.

And that evening, sitting laid back in a chair watching a movie, my upper ab area right under the rib cage went into such an awesome spasm/charlie horse/cramp that my gooodness that was incredible trying to think fast about what the complementary muscles were, whether to rub or stretch out or  breath or just hope to knock myself out.

My upper abs in particular have been having a DOMS experience since then.

Applying the Protocol

THis morning (we're getting closer to the example now), i have a session where i like to add in ab work and wanted to do some roll outs.  Here's the specific worked example of the above protocol.

Start of workout:
1. Explore - 
I tried the roll out and well, no, my extension was not getting to where i was on friday to be sure. In fact if felt like i was getting to about where the above picture goes and no further. And sore. oh yes. I then tried the knees to elbows and that was fine so thought, ok i'll do that.
2. Think
DOMS is about extension for the most part - what *part* of the roll out was new? That last bit of extension. What else about load/reps? Doing three sets of ten - so thirty bodyweight load of extensions in a new range. Interesting - that new part of the movement is where the soreness was. Makes a kind of sense, doesn't it. Interesting to note: a mere thirty reps (and then maybe those few standing-ish ones) set off this killer response. That's worth noting. If i don't want the DOMS next time maybe try half the reps in the new area.
End of Workout3. Return, end of work out.
Having done everything i wanted to do this morning, coming back to this roll out movement was a bonus. What i found is that i could do the movement, and my range of motion was back. I only tried sets of five. Cool. Reforming the movement when no longer super sore - good - more rebuilding the area. and not overloading my body - just reminding it, it's safe to go here.
4. Relax. Really. There is no spoon.
The biggest win of this session, the most potent insight for me is the difference in the movement quality when i reminded myself to relax. Not breath or go loose, but the cue for me was "relax" - i had visions of the muscle firing patterns of efficient practiced movement in my head - where only the necessary fibers are firing for as long as they need to fire, and only as many as are needed. I reasoned that perhaps by tensing in trying to protect myself, i was firing up more fibers than necessary and doing my movement no good in the process - tension, and too much of it, perhaps.
WOW, gang, wow.  Relaxing into the movement gave me greater depth, more fluidity and control and ESPECIALLY - less pain. The difference was really night and day.

Now, here's a vid of me doing ten reps after a couple of those sets of five - and please notice something after about the fifth rep: i thought i'd been saying relax to myself in the first five but in the last bunch i really thought RELAX - and i think you'll see that slight shift to deeper, smoother, more elongated.

You can find this and other b2d vids on

The above isn't perfect (the start position i'm going to try with butt down to keep whole back straight from knee to top of head, for instane), and perhaps it's more a feel than a see thing, but there is a depth difference, and there is a movement quality difference (i just may be keeping it all inside). What do you think?

Two takeaways from this DOMS-exploring protocol  - at least that keep showing up in my practice
  1. Do it AGAIN. It's OK. Just because we don't get a movement the first time we try it doesn't mean we can't come back to it. Failing at a rep is not the same as being toast for that movement. It often just means the pattern + control/strength hasn't come together yet
  2. Relax! - even when it seems counter intuitive - can yield incredible rewards in the performance of movement. i won't call it the performance of strength. I dunno about that here, and i'm not entirely sure how to apply this yet to my double 24kg Kettlebell press, but something's going on. After all i was able to do the movement both with tension and with much less, and i can tell you which version felt better in all levels from movement quality to pain level to range of motion. 
Time and again, do it AGAIN keeps showing up in practice success. Eg, the first time i tried a single leg pistol with a 24 at the end of a work out i had to diss my inclination to say well that's it - end of workout anyway, and say - try it again, maybe? That lead to my very first 24 single leg pistol. 

With DOMS, here, i've just been taught another counter intuitive lesson about relaxation to come back into a movement - when nice and ready for it - relax into the movement. 

Looking forward to checking that relax bit out in my next heavy pressing day 
That will be EXPLORE More, THINK about it - what i know about that movement in me, RETURN to it (without needing it) and RELAX into it - 

We've done this example with DOMS, but the "what is new; what's its source; what can i learn" protocol can be run with any new discovery in a movement.
- if you explore these concepts, please let me know what you find.

And remember: you can also:


Relate Posts:

DOMS part 1: what is delayed onset muscle soreness?
DOMS part 2: what seems to work to address DOMS?

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