If you have ever started an exercise program, or even changed one, you have probably experienced Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, more commonly known as DOMS, even more commonly known as “OMG, I cant walk down stairs or sit on the toilet!”
What is DOMS?
To understand what DOMS is, we first have to understand a little about how muscles work, here is a cool short video I found which explains it really well.
The goal of our workouts, is to create bigger, stronger muscles. In order to do that, we have to “force” our muscles to change, or adapt; otherwise known as “Forced adaptation”
DOMS is a side effect of forced adaptation, and totally normal.
In very simple terms, when we push or pull a weight that is heavy enough “overload” our muscles, it does microscopic damage, or microtears, in the muscles fibres.
When the body repairs this damage, it makes the muscles bigger and stronger in order to cope with more weight in the future. We feel the soreness during the time of this repair process.
An increase or change in load / volume of at least 10% is enough to cause soreness. This is why it’s usually the first week of a brand new workout regime that is the toughest, because that is the week that the highest variance in volume / load occurs.
After the first week or two, the increase in workload is usually lower than 10%, therefore you tend to not be as sore.
DOMS usually comes on approx. 24 hours after your workout, and can last for approx.. 72 hours.
There is a common mis-conception that DOMS is caused by a build up of lactic acid in the muscles. This is not true, lactic acid is a by product of the process muscles go through when contracting (ATP), it’s what causes the “burn” when you workout. Lactic acid does not stick around long enough in the muscles to cause DOMS for 72 hours.
Watch the video below for a run down of what will help DOMS, and what will not!
What are the side effects?
The most common symptom of DOMS is the soreness, which can range from an occasional dull ache to higher level of constant inflammation style pain.
Swelling can also occur, which can sometimes explain odd measurement discrepancies on the first few weeks weigh ins of a new exercise program.
As blood and fluid rush to the area to heal the muscles, the areas can feel warmer than normal.
General tightness in the effected areas can also occur, and sometimes even cramps.
Why do some people get more soreness than others?
Firstly, we are all different. Some people might be more genetically inclined to have more muscle mass, therefore can “spread the load” when working out, and not get as sore.
Some people have a lower pain threshold than others, so they just “feel” sorer.
Some people, again, won the genetic lottery and just heal faster and more efficiently than others.
Regardless, everyone who has ever pushed themselves through a hard workout has experienced DOMS.
What will help relieve DOMS?
In a nutshell, DOMS is best relieved (luckily) by doing most of the things you should be doing anyway as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Hydration – staying hydrated helps the healing process.
We all know that water is vital to nearly every process in the body, in every cell in fact! As part of the healing process, the body sends blood and plasma to the effected area, so if you are dehydrated you are not giving yourself the best tools for healing.
Rest – Proper recovery is vital.
A good 7-9 hours sleep is recommended for optimal health, and therefore optimal healing. Most of your healing and fat burning is going to happen while you sleep.
NOTE: This does not mean total rest or absence of physical activity, see below in “What doesn’t help DOMS”
Warm Ups – Dynamic stretching, CNS activation, and movement before a work out.
Doing a warm up before every workout has been proven to reduce DOMS.
A good warm up would include dynamic stretching, some cardio to get the heart rate up, some body weight exercises (Push, Pull, Squat) to get blood flow to the muscles, synovial fluid to the joints, and to get the Central Nervous System (CNS) activated and “Alert”.
A roll out with a foam roller can also be a good start before a warm up.
Warm ups should start slow and easy, and finish with your heart rate elevated, and a slight sheen of sweat on your forehead.
There is a tenuous link between static stretching and improving DOMS after a workout, but I would actually put static stretching in the “What doesn’t help DOMS” column.
NOTE: I am not saying you shouldn’t stretch after a workout.
Increased Blood Flow to the Muscles
Pretty much any method of increasing blood flow to the muscles will reduce the soreness of DOMS< and encourage a faster recovery period.
As blood carries the vital ingredients of the healing and muscle building process, the more we can deliver to the site, the better (faster) you will heal.
Here are a list of some methods that will increase blood flow to your muscles:
* Massage – Either from a professional, or even using a foam roller yourself.
* Warm bath or Sauna – Raising your core temperature will force blood away from vital organs and closer to the skin surface and extremities
* Compression workout gear – The most widely known compression gear is commonly known by the brand “Skins”
The jury is out on the benefits of using compression gear to help DOMS. The evidence is inconclusive. However, I have used Skins in the past, and I felt they helped, placebo? Maybe, but they do keep you warmer, and therefore bring blood to the areas.
I use knee sleeves when Squatting and deadlifting, and the heat that the sleeves keep in my knees make them feel a lot better than without.
* Low or High Impact Workouts – Low and High? Yes. It depends on you.
Just as some people thrive on a low carb diet and others do not, some people will get relief from a high impact workout and some a low.
Low impact would be walking, riding, swimming, a light jog.
High impact could be a totally standard workout.
Remembering that blood flow is going to help facilitate faster healing, nothing gets blood to the muscles better than exercise.
It might seem counter intuitive to do more of the work that got you sore in the first place, but it does work. Total rest (per below), does not.
A high impact workout is thought to have an analgesic effect due to the hormonal response the body has to high impact exercise.
What Will Not Help DOMS?
* Stretching – contrary to popular belief, stretching after the fact does little to help DOMS. It doesn’t hurt it either, so if it feels good, go for it!
Regular stretching is still recommended, I’m not saying you should not stretch, but it’s not really going to do anything for your DOMS.
* Supplements – Using protein powder etc before or after a workout.
There has been all sorts of research done regarding supplementation and DOMS, particularly in the elite sports arena, and there is a link between helping DOMS, protiens, enzymes etc etc etc.
Suffice to say, for the average Mum and Dad gym goer, it has minimal impact.
A good diet will assist the body rebuild, and can reduce the anti-inflammatory reaction, and supplementation can be helpful for that.
Taking a post workout protein drink, with some carbs and fats, wont hurt, but it wont make much difference to your DOMS.
* Total Rest – A very common mistake that first timers to exercise make is to stop everything for 3-7 days after beginning a new plan and experiencing DOMS
The problem is, it’s a 10% plus overload that causes DOMS. So if you have total rest for 3-7 days to wait for DOMS to subside, you are setting yourself up to be sore again the very next time.
If instead, you moved and did some exercise (low or high, whatever works for you – try both), you would find that within a week to two weeks, the level of your DOMS lowers to the point you hardly notice it.
Chceklist for managing DOMS
* Stay Hydrated
* Eat a balanced diet
* Get 7-9 hours sleep
* Warm Bath or Sauna
* Low Impact Exercise – Walk, Swim, Ride, Light Jog, Yoga, Stretch
* High Impact Exercise – Heavy weights, HIIT (Normal exercise)
* DO NOTHING – Move your butt.
Hit me up if you want to know more about how to get over DOMS
Bren “I can’t feel my legs!” Ryan
Weight Loss Coach
0411 147 214