Ask Amanda: Dom-d-dom-dom-DOMS

A lot of my clients like to work out with me twice per week with a day in between – Monday/Wednesday, for example, or Tuesday/Thursday.  And almost invariably, that second session gets one of two responses:

  1. cancellation.
  2. complaints about soreness (“…but it wasn’t this bad yesterday!”)

This condition, friends, is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), and it’s a super common thing.  DOMS kicks in 24-72 (most commonly: 48) hours after the exercise or activity that causes it, and comes from the microtears in muscle tissue that occur with intense (read: challenging) training.  The more pronounced the eccentric contraction that caused the tear, the more intense the feeling of soreness will be two days later.  Behold:

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Movements like the biceps curl, above, tend to produce more prominent DOMS because the eccentric (“down”) phase is so stressful for the muscle being worked.  The same is true for squats, deadlifts, and push-ups, which is why these movements tend to produce DOMS at a higher rate.

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Whether or not you develop DOMS is not a sign of how “good” or “hard” your workout is, however – typically it is a function of doing something new or different to your body rather than something more difficult.  For example, one of my worst cases of DOMS in recent memory was after hitting the driving range with my Dad for the first time – I wasn’t used to gripping a golf club, so I was hyper-focusing, and all that grip meant my forearms felt like I’d been bouldering the Grand Canyon for a few hours – and lasted a few days.

Soreness is not a bad thing, nor a good thing – in my professional opinion, it’s just a fact of environment, kind of like how you get sweaty when it’s hot outside or shiver when it’s cold.  You get sore when you challenge your body to perform new, heavier, unfamiliar, or explosive movements.  You experience soreness when you are growing your muscles (i.e. hypertrophy), and you get it when you’re training for endurance events, and you may even get it from something seemingly innocuous – like jumping on a trampoline, or carrying luggage up a staircase.

The big divide I see with my clients that do experience DOMS is what they do about it – meaning, do they cancel the next session?  Push through?  Figure out a way to avoid it next time?  If you are someone who suffers from that “hit by a truck” feeling after each and every workout, here are some (non-foolproof, but worthy) strategies to try:

  • Tart cherry juice.  Yep, just sippin’ on this sour swill has been linked to decreased post-workout inflammation.
  • Ice and cold.  Whether it’s a refreshing shower, a bag of ice on overworked areas, or if you’re a real boss, a stroll through the cryo chamber, getting your bod chilled out in a hurry can stop the development of DOMS by slowing down inflammatory processes.
  • Sports massage.  Forget the image of lying comfortably in a lavender-scented zen spa – sports massage is brutal, painful, and not for the faint of heart – but it’s one of the “luxuries” that keep professional athletes mobile, so you know it works.  If you are a continuous DOMS sufferer, I suggest trying to get a session once every week.
  • Compress yourself.  I’ve seen shin splints and calf cramps all but disappear from clients who just start wearing compression socks or sleeves – and similar reports from those who wear recovery compression leggings or tops.  It’s a small change that can prevent a large dose of soreness – worth the somewhat ample investment.
  • Not being a wuss.  Yep, tough love – there is a major difference between being sore and being injured, and if you’re honest with yourself, you know when you’re just trying to get out of a workout.  Active recovery (walking, swimming, yoga) is actually a better strategy than lying in your bed complaining, and it’ll get you more results, too.

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One final point – though I’ve sort of made it above, but it bears repeating – soreness is not a good or bad thing, inherently.  It doesn’t mean your workout was successful or unsuccessful; it doesn’t mean you’re out of shape or in shape; it doesn’t signify much except that you used your body in a way (or to a level) it hasn’t been used before, and it’s giving you a signal that it noticed.  So buck up, stretch out, slap on an ice pack, and keep moving – if you let the DOMS get you down, you’ll never be able to move forward in your fitness gains.

What’s your best remedy for soreness – DOMS, immediate, or otherwise?

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Ask Amanda: Harried Holidays

Perhaps it’s more symptomatic in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world – we do up the sugar-fueled trick-or-treating for Halloween in October, binge-eat like patriots on Thanksgiving (and days after) in November, and ramp up a December so full of holiday parties and celebrations that, come January, we can barely drag our bloated carcasses onto the scale, much less face the gym.

Ugh.  It’s a vicious cycle, peeps – but a predictable one, and one you can break.

An #AskAmanda fan (and real-life kickass client!) of mine inquired last week about how to stay on track when the holiday season threatens to break our wills, and I thought long and hard about whether to reveal the following fact (deep breath):

Nearly every winter, I lose weight.

Yes, you read that right.  I decrease in mass during the holiday season.  I tend to start off January at my year-long lowest weight, typically peaking somewhere around my birthday (June, don’t ask me why, maybe because I hate summer?), and then downhilling past the October/November hump and ending up at a nice clean and lean place come December.

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So how does this happen?

First of all, I am a big rules person.  Those of you who know me IRL know that I am a giant fan of deadlines, limits, boundaries, and accountability (especially when it comes to fitness and health).  When the holidays start pushing into my world with their nonstop flow of parties, happy hours, and general disruption of schedules, I push back – with a consistent plan that keeps me centered and focused.  Some examples:

  • At the risk of beating a dead horse, I only allow myself to eat within an 8-hour window, then I fast the remaining 16.  Got a holiday party at 9pm?  Either push your eating window (2-10pm, for example) or finish up your eating well before, and toast a glass of champagne – but skip the canapes.  Easy peasy.
  • Not so ready for the strict window?  Try this: set a carbs deadline instead (I suggest either 2pm or 4pm, depending on how strict you wanna play it).  Rather than confining all your food to a specific time limit, simply give yourself an end game for the white stuff (refined sugar, flour, bread, pasta and rice) and hold yourself to it. Egg rolls after 4p?  Pass.  But let the good times roll on that chicken satay!

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  • You can also focus on playing the swap game – pick and choose your battles, so to speak.  Got a company holiday party catered by your favorite restaurant?  Plan for it by “trading” your dinner for a spin around the appetizer buffet instead.  Got a boozy cookie-baking party with the gals?  Choose one – the sugar or the swill – and allow yourself a little indulgence without going overboard.  Life is all about choices, and when you feel in control of your own, you’re less likely to make the wrong ones.

Second, I make my own workouts even more of a priority – and a stress reliever! – when the end-of-year schedules start to pack up.  I experience so many client cancellations in the month of December  I want to tear my hair out – and most of them are for reasons like last-minute shopping, back-to-back events at school or work, or prepping for holiday travel.  As I say so often to clients and classes alike – “when you want to do something, you’ll find time – when you don’t, you’ll find excuses.”  So just cut the crap and:

  • Schedule your workouts into your calendar.  Make your most important meetings the ones that maintain your personal health, energy, and spirit – what could be more crucial when the holiday rush threatens to drain you of all of that?  If you want to get super real about it, assess yourself a strict “cancellation fee” if you do skip – making a contribution to a worthy political cause (cough, cough) or putting five bucks in a gift fund for your mother-in-law.  Money talks, and eventually, you’ll listen.
  • Seek out exercise classes that you want to go to.  GuavaPass and other services like this are great for this time of year because they allow you to break up the monotony without (financial) commitment – and who wouldn’t feel less stressed doing a workout like trampoline gymnastics, boxing, or aerial yoga?  When the workout is exciting, new, and fun, you can view it as pleasure – rather than the boring ol’ routine of picking up dumbbells in a sweaty gym.
  • Make working out together a social engagement.  One of my favorite memories in my entire exercise history was when a bunch of girlfriends and I “sweated to the Oldies” at Richard Simmons’ SLIMMONS studio in Beverly Hills.  He wore a sequined tank top and a tiny Santa hat; we wore neon 1980s workout gear and danced like no one was watching.  Afterward we got dinner and drinks and it was an absolutely perfect holiday get-together – better than any parties I’d been to that year.

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My final tip is this: drop the guilt.  It’s the holiday season, a time to celebrate what makes you happy, be with friends and family, and enjoy the decorations, festivity, and magic that truly only comes once a year.  Focus on what’s really important this time of year – gratitude, compassion, and kindness – and no matter what, you’ll lose the “weight” of negativity and frustration that tends to build up during a long, hard year.

What are your favorite stay-healthy holiday tips?

Ask Amanda: Sunny Side Up

As winter  approaches (in the Northern Hemisphere, sorry Aussies – save this entry for like, May or June) and the days are getting shorter, I find that a lot of my clients struggle more with sticking to their exercise routines.

Sure, there are lots of other factors affecting workout adherence around this time of year – holidays that center around unhealthy food, festive parties and events taking over the schedule, and demands from kids and family for costumes, cupcakes, party prep, and what-have-you wiping out even the most dedicated exercisers.

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But I want to focus on something near and dear to my own heart: the sun.

I have always, always been a morning person (much to the chagrin of many of my friends and my long-suffering sleep-a-holic husband), but I qualify that with this: I am actually a sunshine person.  When the sun is up, I want to be, too – and when it’s dark outside, my spirit and motivation are black and sad (ok, dramatic, but you get my point).

This being said, being this type of sunshine person (especially in my line of work, where a “late” morning starts at 7:30am) is all well and good when it’s summertime and the sun is out at 5:15am – but not so much when it’s the dead of winter, the weather is already freezing and it’s pitch black until 7:45.

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Add to this my current situation – living directly on top of the equator, where the sun rises at 7am and sets at 7pm daily – and where I still must get up at 5-5:30am (in the aforementioned soul-crushing darkness) at least five days of the week, and you’ve got quite a pickle.

I present all of this information as long introduction to a great #AskAmanda question – how in the hell do you get motivated to exercise when it’s dark outside (whether that means early in the morning, or later after work when your energy is shot)?

First of all, don’t make darkness an excuse.  I know you guys are probably up to here with my no-nonsense advice when it comes to getting your workout in, but I only offer up the tough love with just that – love.  In reality, only about the first two minutes of waking up in the darkness really sucks (you know, those glorious first two minutes after the alarm where your bed is so warm and your PJs are so comfy and you just want to live in your bed forever and ever).  Once you get up, flick on a light, and get moving, life isn’t so hard.

Second, set up a decent mini-ritual to look forward to.  For me, it’s a piping hot pot of really good coffee (right now that’s Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Spice, imported from the States and literally giving me life for the next few weeks).  For you, it might be a shower with a really nice-smelling soap, putting on a podcast you’ve been waiting to listen to, or saving a certain breakfast food you really enjoy for “only” the days you wake up for a workout (treat yo’self).  However small and whatever it may be, make it special to you, and it’ll matter.

Third, sleep in your (clean) workout clothes.  Sure, this may be easier said than done (I tend to wear compression gear for my workouts, so I’d actually prefer not to sleep like a cased sausage), but it’s a surefire way to make the journey from bed to gym a bit shorter, a lot easier, and using a lot less brainpower (a superb thing when you’re just struggling to tie your shoes at 6am).  If this is too much, at least lay out your clothes and necessities so that there is no dread, confusion, or struggle in the morning – just pick up, dress, and go.

Next, consider being a bit silly (especially if you live alone).  Wake up and put on “Baby Got Back” and bust a little 5:45am move in your mirror.  Buy one of those complete crap gossip magazines and commit to 30 minutes on the treadmill to read it.  Download a hilarious YouTube workout video and do it in your living room while wearing baggy sweatpants and an old college T-shirt.  Nothing is too stupid if it makes you laugh AND gets you motivated enough to skip the snooze button and commit to a lil’ old workout.

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My final tip is this: if waking up in the darkness (or again, dragging yourself to the gym after work once it’s already dark) is too painful, find another time to work out.  Maybe you need to commit to a lunchtime power hour.  Perhaps it’s a 3pm living-room booster while the kids are taking their naps.  You might be the type that can space out three 10-minute HIIT workouts throughout the day so you don’t have to wake up a half hour before the sun.  Whatever time you can consistently work out is the best time for you to be working out (path of least resistance and all that, guys).

Whether it’s changing seasons (hello, winter) or lack of seasons (hello, Singapore), there will be shifts and changes in even the most established routines from time to time – and it’s up to you to roll with the punches, re-prioritize, and figure out a “new normal” that fits your needs, schedule, and preferences.  If you make it happen, it will happen – so in the great words of the NIKE marketing gods: just do it.

When do you like to work out?  What are your strategies for getting up before the sun?