Most exercisers have experienced DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) in the days following a workout. So what is DOMS, what affects the level and what can you do about it?
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is your body’s normal response to being pushed beyond its comfort zone. When you exercise you create tiny tears in your muscle fibres which lead to an inflammatory response. The damage causes muscles to respond by laying down new muscle fibres so there is more tone, strength and resilience the next time you train. Some people experience DOMS more than others. The extent will depend on four factors.
The first factor is the nature of the exercise. The more intense / frequent / different it is from what you normally do the more sore you will be. Even if you’re really good at your regular BodyPump classes you could find yourself super-sore if you try out a Bodyombat class. A different activity recruits different muscle fibres which creates greater adaptations. If you want to keep a lid on your DOMS it’s important to start your fitness journey gently and push out very gradually with your frequency, intensity and variety of exercise.
The second factor affecting DOMS is your personal physiology. A lot comes down to genetics – different people get sorer sooner and more severely than others. Some people experience 24 hour DOMS, others experience 48 hour DOMS. Some clients look at a dumbbell and get DOMS, others can push very hard and achieve great results with very little tenderness along the way. People under a lot of stress will hit overload sooner. There is no “right” amount of muscle tenderness. Some people like the soreness; it gives them a feeling of accomplishment. Other people dislike the soreness; it gives them a feeling of soreness. Customise the intensity of your routine to achieve the level of discomfort / pace of results that’s appropriate for you.
The third factor affecting DOMS is your foundation habits. The process of muscle building actually happens in the resting phase, not the working phase. This means that sleep and stress management have a large role to play in gaining condition. Appropriate hydration and nutrition, particularly protein, are also very important in getting the most out of your workouts. If you’re getting your fuel and your recovery right you’ll be able to push your body harder and create adaptations faster.
The fourth factor affecting your level of DOMS is your response when soreness strikes. It’s inadvisable to do the same exercise that created the soreness. You’ll not only prolong discomfort, you’ll also put yourself at risk of injury. The best exercise when you’re super-sore is low intensity cardio to flush oxygenated blood through your recovering muscles. A brisk walk can be a great active recovery. Go easy on stretching and rolling if you’re already sore – inflammation makes muscles sensitive and stretching doesn’t make them recover any faster.
A bit of muscle soreness and tightness is a good sign; it shows you worked hard and that means your body needs to adapt and change. Your routine should ultimately make you feel better not worse. It’s important to remember that exercise is a tool to improve your health, vitality and quality of life. If you aren’t achieving those things then your approach might need a tweak.