What is DOMS?
DOMS - delayed onset muscle soreness - is the pain and discomfort you get in your muscles after training them. Have you ever struggled to sit down the day after you worked your legs a bit harder than usual? Yeah - that's DOMS.
It’s delayed, as obviously you don’t feel in immediate, crippling agony as soon as you re-rack the bar or sit into your car after a long walk. Your legs might feel shaky and a bit weak, but it’s not the same kind of feeling you get when you have DOMS, which usually kicks in ~12-16 hours after exercise and lasts 2 (possibly 3) days, depending on how "shocking" the activity was. If you haven't done a particular activity in a long time, or have placed unprecedented load on a muscle, you're a likely candidate for DOMS the following day... and the day after.
It's a funny one, as a lot of people feel that, if they're not sore the following day that they haven't worked hard enough. Is that a good thing though? If you "do it right" & are crippled with DOMS, it's likely you won't be able to train that body part for 2-3 days afterwards. So is DOMS good or bad?
What causes DOMS?
While the origins of DOMS are complex, it's now widely agreed that the tenderness & pain develops as a result of microscopic damage to muscle fibers involved in exercise. This type of damage results from novel stresses that were experienced during exercise and the soreness is a side effect of the repair process that kicks in in response to this damage. Essentially, your muscle fibres are damaged and grow back bigger (hypertrophy) in response to stress. Immediate and short-term soreness in the gym is usually cramping - caused by a build up of lactate and hydrogen ions. DOMS, does exactly what is says on the tin - it's delayed - and the pain is very different to cramping.
DOMS is more likely after a session with a lot of eccentric muscle action. That is, when the muscle gets longer, whilst under tension. Examples of eccentric muscle actions include the lowering phase of a bicep curl exercise or the lengthening of the quads while the limb brakes against your body’s momentum as it walks or runs downhill.
Are DOMS good or bad?
Developing and growing muscle is caused by the repeated breakdown and build-up of that muscle over time. DOMS is a screaming signal that muscle tissue has been broken down and damaged - signalling that the hypertrophy process is happening - providing you're fueling yourself with adequate amounts of protein.
However, it does mean you're unlikely to train well in the days following and so, longer term may actually be detrimental. Can you train "through" the pain? Well, it's not going to be enjoyable and you're a lot more likely to lift with poor form.
Don't go hunting for DOMS - trust me, it'll find you. As long as you're training with progressive overload, you're doing it right. DOMS are not the only indication of growth and gains.
If you're serious about training, DOMS is inevitable from time to time. As you switch up routines or go "beast-mode" some days, you'll encounter it. But if you’re constantly suffering, it could be a sign that you’re pushing yourself too hard and aren't giving yourself enough time to recover. Or you're not eating enough to fuel your recovery. Or that you're simply doing too much. Use DOMS as a friendly indicator - it from time to time it can be almost rewarding, but too frequently and it could be a sign that you need to address something.
Easing the symptoms of DOMS
There is little evidence that stretching or warmup/cooldown strategies will speed up recovery anif the primary goal is to reduce symptoms, then treatments such as ice pack application or massage/foam rolling may be useful in easing pain. It is important to be aware that pain reduction does not mean recovery. These treatments can be effective in reducing pain, but underlying muscle damage will remain.
It's only natural that your body will adapt over time, hence the importance of calculated strength programming & controlled overload. You need to make sure you're challenging your body to develop and grow (or shrink!). DOMS will not be an important factor in this journey, but you're likely to encounter it...
For help developing a training program that will work for your goals, along with a nutrition plan to go with it, drop me an email.
Summary: As long as you're training with progressive overload, you're good.