Soreness has become a necessary part of an athlete’s journey. So the challenge becomes managing this consequence of strenuous activity. Far too often, the prevailing notion is to rest during soreness and injury, which can actually make the problem worse. The reality is that we have only had the option of rest over the last few decades. Escaping a predator, farming the land with your family, and walking to the next town made soreness from the previous day irrelevant. Thankfully, our bodies were actually designed to be more active when we are sore; it’s called the repeated bout effect.
The repeated bout effect is a protective adaptation that describes how further exercise after the original activity damage will not delay the recovery rate. Soreness will not layer on top of previous soreness.
And by damage, we are referring to delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which generally peaks 48 hours after intense or new exercise. From an athlete’s perspective, the biggest concern of DOMS is its negative effects on stretch shortening cycle (SSC) performance like running and jumping.
Researchers out of the Tokyo Institute of Technology examined the effects of further activity on soreness and SSC performance, particularly focusing on its role of pain reduction, through a process known as exercise induced analgesia (EIA). The mechanisms behind EIA are not certain, but likely involve a combination of factors:
1) Endorphins that influence brain activity to decrease pain perception
2) Increased temperature and circulation to inhibit the activity of pain transmitters
3) Psychological factors, such as intense concentration on the exercise at hand
The August 2010 study found that EIA helps maintain dynamic performance and movement due to the countering of peripheral fatigue, referring to the cell membrane and coupling disruptions that play a role in DOMS.
However, there is a catch. EIA must induce some fatigue to alleviate soreness, which makes sense because sufficient intensity and duration is necessary to produce an analgesic effect. The researchers used 70% of maximal effort in this study to produce the positive effects on pain reduction.
At Sparta, our athletes with significant soreness and upcoming competition use non-impact movements like the VersaPulley to maintain explosiveness. However, athletes with only 2-3 practices a week, train through that soreness, knowing that the analgesic effects of exercise are far more effective and efficient than ibuprofen and ice baths, which have both shown to be detrimental to the healing process.
Your window to play sports is short, so look at soreness as the reason to train again soon, it will be the healthiest pain reliever you have ever had.