Climbing & Training Myths & Misconceptions 2: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) (IYC Series), Part 2

What I do for the rest of a climbing day depends on how I feel warming up on familiar ground.

What I do for the rest of a climbing day depends on how I feel warming up on familiar ground.

This entry continues last week’s discussion of common climbing-related DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) myths.

Does the presence or severity of DOMS indicate the quality or efficacy of my workout?

Not necessarily. As mentioned last week, different people experience different levels of DOMS. And, certain workouts – especially ones that include a lot of eccentric motions – are likely to predispose you to experiencing DOMS more than others. But, you don’t necessarily need to experience debilitating post-exercise pain in order to make gains, or to think that you had a worthwhile workout.

Keep in mind, though, that if you never push yourself hard DURING workouts (i.e. you always stay well within your comfort zone, rarely or never try hard moves, stay on angles and styles of climbing that are pretty easy for you, and always say “take” when you feel the slightest bit pumped, and so forth), you’re not as likely to make significant gains as if you do push hard – regardless of your post-workout DOMS status. I still think there’s some truth to the now-somewhat-unpopular “no pain, no gain” concept, particularly for those who want to excel at a sport – but all within reason, meaning that if you’re still sore and unable to train (or even worse, just to move/live life normally without pain) three or four or even more days after a workout, you’d probably do well to take it a bit (or a lot!) easier the next time around.

You can definitely make gains by taking a more moderate approach, and particularly, by allowing your body the time and space it needs to recuperate between sessions, since bodies can get stronger, faster if they’re provided with adequate rest after working out. If you continually tear your muscles up and never allow them the chance to rebuild, you will never be able to put your full effort into your training or climbing, and you will never realize your true potential as a result.

For me, a more moderate approach tends to mean less volume (i.e. shorter sessions, or not climbing or training until I’m 100 percent drained, which I used to do regularly) and sometimes, less frequency (i.e. fewer training sessions per week), while still trying to maintain a decent level of intensity (difficulty) in each training session, whether I’m focused on strength, power, power endurance or endurance. The only exception to the intensity rule is if I do a recovery climbing session – which I’ll talk about in more detail later on in this topic.

If I don’t have DOMS, am I ready to train hard or climb hard again?

Maybe – but maybe not. I used to use my level of post-exercise muscle soreness as the main indicator of my recovery status (though I often ignored it, too, and then got frustrated and/or overtrained as a result of my body not rigidly adhering to whatever schedule my mind had decided it should be able to stick to). And remember that DOMS can take one or two days after working out to fully manifest – a fact that got me into trouble too many times to count, as I’d wake up “feeling fine” and head out to train or climb, not realizing the pain that awaited me down the line (and the consequent even-longer recovery time). Nowadays, I definitely still consider my DOMS status as part of the equation, but I also take into account:

  1. The difficulty and style of my last workout, meaning that, for example, if I did a hard strength-training workout and dug deep, I probably won’t do that again for a number of days, regardless of how I feel. I actually usually wait 4 to 10+ days before strength training again after a serious strength workout (meaning weight training);
  2. My mental and emotional states – since I’m a person who really loves training and climbing as hard as I can, if I’m not psyched to do either of these things, that means I’m probably not recovered. Sometimes I’m psyched to train/climb and I’m still not recovered – and that’s always tough! But that’s even more reason to not train or climb if I’m not psyched – it generally means that my body isn’t recovered enough for me to get much out of it, and that I’d be better off resting; and
  3. How I feel when I start to warm up and engage with the climbing or training I have planned for the day. I have some standard training warm-up exercises, as well as some familiar warm-up routes at the crags I go to regularly, and I use how I feel on these to gauge my status for the day and to alter my plans accordingly as needed. Sometimes I feel more recovered than expected, sometimes less – but the key here is having a flexible, open mind and being ready to shift my plans accordingly should I recognize that what I thought I should do is not appropriate, given how I feel warming up.

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions: DOMS Attenuation and Prevention

This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

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