DOMS (why you're so sore after a workout)
Updated: Oct 21
What is it and why it is important?
In NSW on June 13th many gyms, pools and fitness studios reopened. Eager to get back into it, it would be understandable if you forgot about the painful sensation that would leave you hobbling around and struggling to lift your coffee cups a day or two later. We all know the feeling, some love it, some rarely experience it, but its safe to say we would all love to reduce it as much as possible to feel fresh for each and every session. And the name of the pain: Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS for short.
DOMS refers to the local muscular pain that occurs ~24-48hrs after exercise (these times will vary between individuals and workouts).It's most commonly present after workouts that involve muscle lengthening, (eccentric contractions), unfamiliar movements and/or high intensities. Anecdotally this makes sense, ask most people and they will say the pain was worse when they first began training, but now, more familiar with the movements, it's not so bad, until they kick up the intensity. Despite this, the exact causation of this pain is up for debate, with the current consensus involving muscle damage on a cellular level as the muscle lengthens under tension, yet nerves damage and chemical imbalances are also popular hypotheses. The good news is though that the pain will subside and recovery can be accelerated.
So, if it happens to everyone and subsides eventually why is it important to reduce and understand? Simply put DOMS not only is painful but can reduce your muscles force output and range of motion, hindering your ability to perform at your best. Hence, training and recovering in a way that will best mitigate this phenomena will optimise your sessions leaving you primed for your next competition or race.
What can be done to reduce and prevent them?
Whilst the verdict is still out as to what is the best way to both get your training in and avoid the pain there are many methods that have been tried and tested with evidence to show they work.
Common treatments you can do post exercise include:
Cold or heat therapy
Common treatments pre/during exercise include:
Light eccentric movements
Mixing light aerobic work with resistance exercise
Progressive overload and build up to intensities
Best method is to play around with recovery methods that are available to you incorporating what works best for you. Approach your training with varying intensities doing your best to to time your hard sessions with your optimal condition (think at least 2-3 days apart). For piece of mind the onset of activity has been shown to temporarily alleviate the pain, so light intensity work will give relief. And, as with all good things, persistence will reap rewards, as the movements become more familiar, the DOMS will reduce in intensity.
But wait, I thought no pain no gain? Well not exactly, there is little evidence supporting the notion that muscle soreness the day after a workout induces greater hypertrophy or improvements. The fact that some lucky individuals are more immune to this muscle pain then others yet can still gain benefits indicates such. More importantly by training smart and incorporating proper recovery you can approach each workout with a full tank, getting more out of every session and not torturing yourself. It's not always helpful for performance or mentality to consistently push yourself to the pint where you induce intense DOMS, and potentially more serious pain could result.
Different types of muscle pain
To finish it's important to note that not all muscular pain is DOMS and the following indicators may suggest a deeper issue is present and further attention may be required.
If the pain is intense, occurs rapidly and/or is isolated to a singular area
If the pain is occurring in a location that wasn't targeted in your training
If it is reoccurring or fails to dissipate in at least 7 days time
Acute muscle pain can also occur during exercise if the intensity is particularly high as the body fatigues and pleads for you to slow up a bit.
In any case if you have any concerns about muscle pain or want to seek further information into recovery methods, please seek consolation from your friendly physiotherapist or trainer!
Brad J, Bret MA. Is Postexercise Muscle Soreness a Valid Indicator of Muscular Adaptations?
J Strength Cond: 2013 Oct;35(5): 16-21
Connolly DAJ, Sayers SP, McHugh MP. Treatment and Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. J Strength Cond. 2003 Feb;17(1):197-208.
Contrò V, Esamuela PM, Patrizia P. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) management: Present state of the art. Trends in Sport Sciences . 2016; 23(3): 121-127