Monday, March 7, 2011

Avoiding Muscle Soreness: Micro Tears vs Muscle Tears

For professional baseball players, the majority of training occurs in-season while balancing the physical workload of games, practice, and team travel. Spring Training begins early in the year (February-March) and is followed by a 140-162 game regular season lasting through September or later (The 2010 World Series ended on November 1st). It is also not uncommon for players to participate in Winter Leagues in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, or Arizona during the off-season months. So, given the limited time for physical preparation during the off-season and the high baseball workload throughout the year, how should coaches go about avoiding muscle soreness in players from in-season strength and conditioning work? A simple answer is that coaches must use caution towards high-volume types of training while promoting a variety of fatigue-reducing recovery strategies (i.e. SMFR, contrast bathing, massage, nutrition, and rest). Possessing a better understanding of muscle soreness is helpful in providing guidance to players who do not wish to perform resistance training in fear of becoming sore.

The muscle soreness occurring 24-72 hours following unaccustomed training is referred to by exercise professionals as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). Symptoms of DOMS may include compromised running mechanics, decreased functional range of motion or stiffness, and reductions in strength and power. Of importance to coaches, baseball performance may be negatively affected by excessive muscle pain, leading to compromised movement patterns in throwing, running, and hitting. A risk of muscle injury in tissues surrounding the prime movers (major muscle groups) is of increased concern from altered baseball mechanics.

It is important to realize that the negative effects of DOMS are temporary, and that the damage to the muscle from training (i.e. overstretching) occurs within the muscle cells (at the level of the myofibril) and not in the muscle tissue as a whole. From a medical perspective, a muscle tearing injury (occurring in an entire muscle) would result in a less pliable, scarring over of the affected tissue (i.e. scar tissue). This is NOT the same tearing of muscle tissue which results in DOMS. The term “micro-tears” is often used to describe the displacement, or tearing, of the myofibril proteins (actin, myosin, troponin, and tropomyosin) which serve as cogs to contract our muscles. Micro-tears are believed to promote muscle growth and gains in strength, leading to the notion that DOMS may be a natural part of the early strength building process.

The most effective method of preventing DOMS is to avoid unaccustomed training through a consistent routine. The complete replacement of myofilament proteins naturally occurs every 7-15 days within muscle cells, allowing for relatively quick recovery and adaptation from exercise induced stress. A consistent training approach which considers the overall workload of professional baseball players (i.e. games, practices, travel, nutrition, and sleep) will allow for the players to gradually improve muscular fitness to achieve a higher training level. A workload of 1-2 strength or power sessions per week in-season is a good starting point to avoid overtraining. Workouts can be divided into lower and upper body days as needed.

Key Points For In-Season Training:

 DOMS is most common with strenuous initial training sessions after prolonged inactivity – Perform a consistent routine and do not add new exercise movements in-season.

 DOMS is caused by the eccentric, or lowering, portion of exercise movements –
Avoid performing “negatives” or exercises with strenuous deceleration components.

 DOMS symptoms temporarily lessen after a warm-up which promotes blood flow –
Recommend that players perform a general cardiovascular warm-up before all activity.

 DOMS can negatively impact players physical and psychological performance –
Be cautious in overloading players too soon to avoid poor performance on the field.

Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS
Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach
Texas Rangers


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