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Should I be striving for muscle soreness?

Let’s talk about DOMS- muscle soreness if you’re unfamiliar with this term. Recently I was having an interesting discussion with a client & then the same conversation a few days later with a fellow PT. Many people are lead to believe that their training sessions should involve someone yelling at them, “beasting them”, leaving you unable to sit on the loo the next day; this would be known as DOMs.


Ever experienced this feeling or level of muscle soreness?


If you have you’ll know it’s pretty unpleasant & can also be a total pain in the arse (literally!) if you’ve got a busy day with the horses or at work or evening plans. Not being able to bend over & pick your horses feet out because your hamstrings are so tight is hardly functional training is it??


Now at some point during a training journey, you will 100% experience muscle soreness. For some of us it is a signal that we have worked & some of us weirdos might like that feeling, I know I do on the odd occasion as a reminder I’ve pushed myself. But what are DOM’s?


DOM’s is delayed onset muscle soreness which basically means you’ll have the feeling of muscular soreness a day or two after you’ve trained. Dependent on the level of damage to your muscles from your training session recovery can take anywhere from 12-48 hours & even in some cases last longer which could scupper the rest of your training week!


Soreness can come from not warming up properly, overstretching your muscle tissues under load (weights), introducing completely new exercises, too much volume & doing very slow eccentric work. This is the slow lowering phase for example the lower in your squat.



The common question is, are DOM’s are a sign of a good session? To answer that simply the answer is no, they are not.


When you start a new training journey or re-introduce resistance training after a break muscle soreness would be expected, the same as riding again after a few weeks off but it shouldn’t be so bad it stops you from training or riding for days after. If you are feeling sore days on end it should be a warning to you that your training programme is not a good one, this is often the case with HIIT style programmes. You’ve not considered rest periods to allow the muscles that you have worked previously to recover, I’d always suggest you allow 48 hours rest between training the same muscle groups. Your volume, (sets & reps), could also possibly be too high & using too many of the same movement patterns causing more stress & soreness to the same area. Ineffective warm-ups can also cause soreness which is why it’s so important to warm up correctly & spend 10 minutes doing some mobility & movement prep at the start of your session. This all allows you to hit your sessions fresh, avoid soreness & ultimately avoid injury!


Many of us are victims of falling into the well of thinking our training programme is no longer hard enough if we’re not suffering from this chronic soreness, when in fact our bodies have simply adapted to the demands being placed on them from our training. Once you’ve got into a good training routine & plan you can often find that muscle soreness disappears until you introduce a new movement; this is totally normal so don’t panic!


Finding a quality training plan that applies progressive overload over a sensible period of time is the way to go to get the most out of your training without causing yourself excessive soreness that will put you off heading back to your next session both mentally & physically! If you’re super sore the last thing you’ll want to do is go & do more training so it’s really important to avoid frequent DOM’s to keep you mentally stimulated as well as physically. Trust me you’ll get to a point where the soreness isn’t fun & you’ll be over your training when in fact you just need to adjust your programme to keep yourself enjoying it without your legs falling off.


You want to focus on building strength in the muscles & movement patterns you use when you ride & over time increasing your strength & fitness. Patience is needed here, don’t expect to start squatting 100kg overnight, but if you’re consistent & focus on a progressive routine rather than beasting yourself you will improve your strength & fitness far quicker & have greater results in the long run.


Training yourself so hard one day will massively affect the quality of your next upcoming sessions too. If you are physically that sore then your next session will end up being impacted & your body won’t be able to work as hard as it could have done if you’d been fresh & feeling ready to hit it.


As Equestrians being sore shouldn’t be a goal, like I said earlier if you’re struggling to ride or bend over or sit on the loo that’s really not practical is it? For most of us, our training has to fit in around all our other commitments & training yourself to the point of breakdown will not allow you to effectively train & ultimately you’ll end up giving up. To avoid DOM’s make sure you follow a progressive programme that focuses on progressive overload over a gradual period of time. If you are unsure how to do this then hire a coach & ask them to show you how.


Allow enough recovery between sessions, I’d always advise 48 hours rest between sessions before hitting the same muscle group again. This will allow you to push hard on your next session & reap maximum benefits from your programme. Make sure you prioritise sleep if your suffering from soreness look at your sleep. Getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep is essential to allow your body time to recover from your training sessions, sleep is the time our body repairs the damage done in our training session so it wants to be prioritised.

Eating well & staying hydrated should also be a key focus for you. Hydration is key for recovery & will help to avoid muscle cramping as well as soreness. Make sure you give your body the nutrients it needs to recover post-session too & replace the fuel you used in your training. Getting protein in post-training is really important to promote muscle growth & repair.


If you do find yourself sore then keep moving, movement is the best thing for you! If you sit down & don’t get up you’ll find your body will stiffen up more. Try to keep moving, go for gentle walks & try some light stretching if you feel like it. Applying warmth can also help soreness to dissipate, a bath with some Epsom salts can really help. Epsom salts are rich in magnesium, a mineral that helps to widen your blood vessels to boost your recovery, and soak soreness from your muscles. Perfect if you’re sore!


Many trainers advocate DOM’s as a positive thing & a badge of honour that you’ve worked hard but I think it’s important to understand what muscle soreness actually is and how it can affect your long term goals. If you want to go & hit a hard session and feel like you’ve worked then ignore all of the above & you can probably cope with your DOMs but if you’re serious about improving your strength & fitness in the long run then DOM’s will only inhibit your riding & training. They are not a sign of a good session so stop searching for them!


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