Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness DOMS
What a great leg session! You leave the gym feeling awesome, everything is wonderful in life and then 24 hours later as you bend down to get in the car…aghhhh….oh my god….what the hell is this?! the DOMS hit!
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS for short, can range from an achy nagging feeling and muscle stiffness to a deep burning sensation, making even the most simple of tasks more difficult than a tough mudder event!
What the hell is this soreness..and why now…48 hours later am I feeling this way?
Delayed onset muscle soreness is one result of exercise-induced muscle damage, although there is variance among exercises and individuals, the soreness usually increases in intensity in the first 24 hours after exercise. It peaks from 24 to 72 hours, then subsides and disappears up to seven days after exercise.
The reason this happens…no one really knows for sure, however it is thought to be as a result of microtrauma to the muscle being exercised.
This is what is meant by “breaking down” your muscle fibers during training, by working out with high intensity and resistance we cause mechanical damage to the muscles exercised.
The idea of building muscle is that you do exactly this, you intentionally break down muscle fiber causing microtrauma and then as your body recovers it will not only repair the damage done, but look to safe guard you in the future against this potential threat, in theory your body super compensates for the damage that occurs and hey presto, you build more muscle! Not only that, but your body will also become more efficient at repairing the specific muscle trained, this is why after several weeks of doing the same exercise routine you no longer feel sore.
That may be where the whole “switch it up to keep your body guessing” nonsense came about.
It’s not so much that you need to “switch things up” every other week, but you should be either increasing your lifts and/or volume week to week to provide a new stimulus to your body and give it a reason to change.
..so, DOMS = more muscle?
Yes…but no..helpful huh, but hear me out. You see hypertrophy (building muscle) is caused by 3 factors (check out my previous article here), only 1 of which is applicable when considering DOMS; Muscle Damage.
Whilst muscle damage is a contributing factor to building muscle, it is not entirely essential, muscle growth can still occur regardless of muscle damage by other mechanisms.
Not to mention that too much muscle soreness can be a bad thing. What happens when its time to train legs again and you still ache? you likely wont be motivated..or have the ability to produce as much force as you would normally and therefore resulting in a sub par workout.
A recent article by Brad Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras from the Strength and Conditioning Journal examined “muscle soreness serves as a valid indicator of muscle hypertrophy” and concluded “it remains debatable as to whether DOMS is an accurate gauge of muscle damage”
The take home from all this?
You don’t need to experience DOMS after a workout to build muscle, and shouldn’t rely on this indicator as the be all and end all as a measure of your productiveness in the gym.
How to treat DOMS?
If you’re starting out, delayed onset muscle soreness can be reduced or prevented by gradually increasing the intensity of a new exercise program. Don’t jump right in at the deep end, start out with low volume and increase your intensity and sets as time goes on.
Despite popular belief, stretching will not help DOMS, in fact, extreme stretching can even cause DOMS.
In most cases your soreness will decrease within a couple of days, if you are really suffering, then focus on any measure that will increase blood flow to that area;
- Low intensity cardio
Make sure your diet has adequate protein, healthy fats and that you are not deficient in minerals and/or vitamins.
Should I train the same muscle if I still have DOMS?
The safest answer is no, if you have are experiencing any pain then do not train the same body part again. This is why bodybuilders will split their routine across a week. Whilst they may have DOMS in their legs, it won’t stop them training back or chest etc. By rotating different body parts per session you can continue to train regardless of DOMS.
That said, as long as your body part is trained at least 72 hours from the previous session, then regardless of DOMS, I personally train again. In the beginning I was really sore, but as time goes on your body adapts to the frequency of your training. In my opinion, if nutrition and rest are adequate you muscle will be ready to be trained again, regardless of the soreness.
A better way to gauge progress?
Rather than rely on muscle soreness as our indicator as to whether we should train or not, there is a better way, keep a log book of your lifts. I can not stress enough the importance of a log book. Every session record your weights and reps, then try to beat those numbers each week, whether it’s the number or reps performed or weight used.
A log book will tell you very quickly if you are doing too much, your lifts will stall or even regress and this will be the best indicator that you are doing too much.