A Deadlift is one of the most punishing workouts a body can be subjected to and also provides the most significant gains in strength and mass. It engages the majority of the muscle groups that helps develop maximal force on explosive actions exhibiting functional movements. However, what comes after this workout is the dreaded symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the typical and most often painful experience that elite or novice athletes suffer after an unfamiliar intense workout. Many websites and sports coaches recommend or prescribe stretching after a workout to help reduce perceived pain in DOMS. Some even believe that after-exercise stretching can prevent its onset.
In this article, we delve into the accuracy of the claims for post-workout stretches as an effective way to prevent DOMS or reduce muscle soreness, the benefits of stretching after a deadlift, and post-workout recovery alternatives.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), or muscle fever is usually manifested by symptoms ranging from muscle tenderness to acute debilitating pain. Other symptoms include painful movement restriction, adjacent joint dysfunction, decreased muscle force, stiffness, and swelling.
DOMS is a typical consequence of unfamiliar strenuous exercises like lifting heavier weights or additional sets and repetitions than your body is accustomed to performing. Its occurrence is more prominent in movements with eccentric contractions.
Although many hypotheses have been developed to explain the manner of causation for DOMS, the exact pathophysiological pathway remains unclear.
However, the primary mechanism is currently considered to be the ultrastructural damage of muscle cells due to unfamiliar sporting activities or strenuous eccentric exercise, which leads to further protein degradation, apoptosis, and local inflammatory response.
It is most prevalent in athletes returning to train for the next season of competition as they go through the rigors of what may be again an unfamiliar routine due to the long off-season rest. However, weightlifters have a more open attitude towards DOMS and welcome it as a positive sign for significant strength and muscle gains after their grueling routine.
A review by Herbert et al. of 10 studies conducted on the effects of stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise states:
"the evidence indicates that stretching - whether conducted before, or after, or before and after exercise - does not reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness in healthy young adults."
In a separate review by Afonso et al. of 11 randomized controlled trials with 17,050 records retrieved, they concluded that recommendations on post-exercise stretching for recovery purposes are misleading as the available data does not support those claims.
Recommendations for a post-workout stretch are prescribed under the belief that it enhances recovery as per ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription.
An opinion article by Afonso et al. states:
"The argument that some athletes feel better when stretching is misleading, as the subjective sensation of feeling better may not translate into objective, measurable improvements. A dangerous statement that could easily be looked at from the other side, whereby athletes that do not like to stretch would be evidence against stretching—so, we feel that these lines of argumentation should be avoided."
Prescribing post-workout stretches to people should be treated cautiously and handled with prudence by discussing the recommendation's insignificance in post-workout recovery. Nevertheless, the opposing side should also understand the context of why some people love to stretch after a workout.
An improvement in a general sense of well-being and a reduction in perceived pain are two of the most commonly reported benefits of doing a stretch after a workout. Although these perceived benefits may not translate into measurable data, it would be wise to consider these factors.
In the conundrum of if one must or can do after-exercise stretching, the answer may depend on people's goals and individual characteristics. Whether one must stretch after a workout, the answer is perhaps not.
For those who feel better doing a stretch in the cool-down phase - David Behm, in his book "The Science and Physiology of Flexibility and Stretching," - advises anyone to abstain from a high-intensity post-workout stretch routine.
Here are some stretches that may help add a variation to cool-down routines and target those muscles most engaged in a deadlift workout session.
Stand facing the wall with the toes about 12 to 15 inches away from the wall. Lift the right foot and press the ball and toes of the foot against the wall with the heel firmly planted on the floor. The higher the toes are on the wall, the deeper the stretch.
Lean forward while bending the right knee bringing it closer to the wall while keeping the heel on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds and do the same with the other leg.
Stand facing the wall with feet together and place the left hand on the wall. Flex the right knee while keeping the thigh straight with the body.
Next, grab the right foot and pull towards the buttocks while maintaining both thighs as close as possible. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, and do the same on the other leg.
Stand with the feet together and place the hands on the back of the chair for support. Flex the right foot and place the ankle just above the left knee. Slightly bend the left knee, then bend the body at the hips, moving it towards the chair.
A stretch on the butt is felt and is more prominent on the right gluteal muscles. Hold for 30 seconds at the bottom of the movement and do the same for the other leg.
Sit on the floor with the body at a 45° angle and hands positioned behind the body supporting the body. The knees flexed at a 90° angle with feet firmly planted on the ground. Flex the right foot and place the ankle just above the left knee.
Using the right hand, position a foam roller under the right butt. Roll the right gluteal muscles back and forth on the foam roller. Lower the right knee to hit the sides of your butt. Just don't overdo it. Do the rocking movement for a desired number of repetitions and do the same on the other side.
Begin with hands and knees on the floor. Hands should be shoulder-width apart with palms spread wide and knees hip-width apart. Bring the hands forward just a little above the shoulders.
Raise the knees off the floor and extend the leg using hips and knees, lifting the butt until the knees are fully extended. For beginners, leave a slight bend on the knee. Maintain a straight back and position the head in between the arms. Hold for 30 seconds.
DOMS only lasts for a few days or a week and, on its own, heals just fine. Though post-workout stretching does not reduce muscle soreness or prevent it, there are alternatives backed by studies that help reduce the recovery period and muscle soreness. These alternatives include massage, rest, compression garments, anti-inflammatory medications, and supplements.
Of all the non-pharmacological interventions to reduce muscle soreness in DOMS, massage showed better results than other methods and can alleviate muscle soreness by approximately 30% and reduce swelling.
A study by Basham et al. states, "Curcumin supplementation may reduce muscle damage and perceived muscle soreness without negatively impacting a natural inflammatory response following exercise."
It is not necessary to stretch after strength training, but it does not mean it doesn’t carry its own benefits. Stretching aids in increasing range of motion (ROM). If the goal is to up the range for which an exercise is to be performed, then stretching will be beneficial.
In terms of recovery, studies have shown that stretching does not expedite the relief from DOMS, and may not be beneficial in this aspect. Overall, stretching after strength training, specifically post-deadlifts, isn’t detrimental as it can increase ROM, but neither is it necessary for recovery.
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