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Short-Term Pain = Long-Term Gain

Muscle Soreness and Perceived Loss of Flexibility/Power

Do you worry about your workouts making you inflexible?

Here is a recent conversation with one of my Bad Girl Ballerinas regarding delayed onset muscle soreness (a.k.a. DOMS):

"With your super-efficient training method, do you ever experience muscle soreness (and the resulting loss of range of motion) on your "rest days"? Also, how often do you stretch, and does that affect DOMS?"

Let's break this down a bit. Because even if you've never heard of it before, you've experienced DOMS and its perceived loss of flexibility and power at some point (more likely quite often!) in your dance career. So, let's take a look at what it is, if it's good or bad, and what to do about it.

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What Is DOMS?

Without geeking out on you and getting overly scientific, DOMS is the sore, tight, heavy feeling you get in your body following an intense workout or training session (basically, anything that challenges your body more than what it is normally capable of or used to). The effects usually last anywhere from 24 to 72 hours after the stimulus occurs.

Science can't quite explain exactly what causes DOMS, but a general consensus seems to blame micro-tears in the muscle tissue and the resulting inflammation and metabolic/chemical "wastes" left over following intense muscle work.

To answer the question above...yes, I totally experience DOMS with my Bulletproof Ballerina workouts. Personally, my DOMS usually peaks about 48 hours after I workout, meaning I generally feel less flexible, weak, and uncoordinated two days after I do a workout that is supposed to get me to my next level. You might be thinking:

How does that make sense? And isn't that frustrating AF?

Yes. But here's why it is necessary.

Is It Good or Bad?

Neither. DOMS is just a necessary part of getting to your next level. But, DOMS itself shouldn't be your goal; and it also shouldn't be something you try to avoid. It is just something you should expect and know how to handle when you are pushing to your next level.

Because science is still unclear about all the details involved in DOMS and because genetics seem to play a role in how individuals experience it (some intensely...some barely feel anything at all), DOMS shouldn't be your benchmark for a good workout. There have been times when I've destroyed myself in the gym and barely felt any DOMS in the following days; and times when I've felt I barely worked out but was destroyed by DOMS afterwards. In other words, the severity of your DOMS isn't a direct indicator of the effectiveness of your workout. There seem to be lots of factors (nutrition, sleep, recovery, etc.) that play a role in how you experience DOMS, other than the workout itself.

So, if you don't experience DOMS, that doesn't necessarily mean you aren't working hard enough. But, you should also know to expect it and how to deal with it should you experience it.

What To Do About It?


  • The heavy, weak, tight, "stuck" feeling you get in your body during DOMS isn't an actual loss of flexibility or strength. It just temporarily feels that way because of the muscle soreness and inflammation in your body caused by the micro-trauma of an intense workout. This inflammation and soreness eventually leads to healing...healing that will rebuild your body stronger than ever. I like to think of it as short-term pain equals long-term gain. Far from losing flexibility and strength, remind yourself that the soreness indicates you are upgrading your body, fortifying it against injuries for a long career.


  • Stretching can help ease the discomforts of DOMS. There's no need to go overboard with overstretching techniques (remember, there is no actual loss of flexibility with DOMS, so you don't need to panic and push to your extremes to "get your flexibility back"). These stretching sessions should be all about getting the blood flowing, breathing into your body, and loosening up that discomfort and stiffness. Along with light stretching, any kind of light movement (walking, Tai chi, yoga flow) should help decrease inflammation and metabolize the by-products in the muscle cells to aid the healing process.
  • Personally, in an ideal world, I would stretch every day for about 10-15 minutes. Again, this stretching session would not be extreme but used as a breathing/moving meditation for my body and mind. To be perfectly honest, my schedule doesn't allow for that (or what I should say is that I choose not to make it as much of a priority as other things in my life). But when I am able to take care of myself this way, I do notice a positive difference in my DOMS.


  • Whether done by a professional or on your own, this can help ease the discomfort of DOMS. 
    • The Cheapo Method: You can always try to convince your significant other to rub you down;) Or, try one of these self-massage techniques:
      • Use a foam roller for large muscle groups
      • Mush into those tight joints with a tennis ball
      • Dig into your sore spots with a Thera Cane
    • The Splurge: One of the best indulgences you can invest in is hiring a professional body worker to massage out your aching muscles. Not only is it good for you physically, but it reminds you that you are worth the money and deserve luxury. That kind of self-indulgence is priceless!


  • Heat and ice can also help you work through your uncomfortable DOMS period. Sometimes it is hard to just sit there with the feeling of being sore and stiff in your body while you wait for it to pass. Giving yourself hot and cold therapy can help you feel like you are playing an important role in your active recovery (and I do think it provides relief for the temporary discomfort).
    • The Cheapo Method: Take a hot shower. Then, turn the faucet to as cold as it will go while you stand there and take the icy freshness for a couple minutes (preferably without passing out! LOL). Turn the water back to hot for a few minutes while you thaw out. Repeat a few times. (Disclaimer: make sure you breathe continuously with rapid, forceful breaths. If at any point you get dizzy, turn the water off and immediately sit down with your head between your knees.)
    • The Splurge: Visit a bath house or spa where you can alternate dunking in cold ice water and hot tubs. Hot saunas and ice rooms also will do the trick. This is my favorite spa to visit, especially in the winter time since the hot baths are located outside. So, once you get nice and overheated in the water, you just jump out and let yourself freeze in the refreshing air while you walk on frost crystals to the next hot tub! (Hmmm, I'm thinking we should organize a Bad Girl Ballerina field trip here in the near future...anyone interested??? Email me;)


  • This is one of the hardest but also most important ways of coping with DOMS. You just have to wait it out, giving yourself as much sleep and quality nutrition to aid in your body's healing process. Sleep is way underrated as is, but especially when following an intense exercise session it is extremely vital. This is when your body does the majority of its repair work. Think about it: it doesn't have to multi-task with other functions of normal everyday living. It can focus solely on healing the micro-trauma caused by your workout. In an ideal world, I would aim for 8-10 hours of sleep per night, especially during DOMS.
  • This also means you have to be very careful about planning your workout schedule strategically around your dance schedule. Since you are aware that you won't have your full power or flexibility when you are experiencing DOMS, you want to leave yourself plenty of time to recover for your dance needs. Everyone's needs will be different here, so you'll have to experiment with your body as to when you feel your full power return. Sometimes this means your dancing will be affected for 2 to 3 days after your workout...and sometimes it means 2 to 3 weeks. It will depend on your body and also on what is required from you at rehearsals and performances. (Harder choreography requires more recovery.)

I hope this helps answer some of your questions about that sucky stiff/sore/heavy feeling you get following intense workouts. Hopefully it also gives you a game plan to deal with those days effectively. Just remember, that loss of flexibility and power you feel is only temporary. Be confident it will give way to an upgraded version of you.

Short-Term Pain = Long-Term Gain