Updated: Jun 16
DOMS are just a part of life. If you’re lifting weights and challenging your muscles each gym session, you’re probably going to be a bit sore . . . but that's a good thing. Because in order your build muscle, you’ve got to put them through the gears a bit and do some damage - so soreness is a byproduct of effective muscle building.
What is DOMS?
DOMS is an acronym that stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and it's a byproduct of lifting weights because of the micro tears to the muscle that occur during a weight training session. These micro tears allow calcium to escape, which disrupts intercellular balance and metabolic byproducts are produced; which can affect nerve endings surrounding the damaged fibres, and can cause localized pain and stiffness.
These micro tears cause muscle soreness for up to 72 hours, which is when they're healing and rebuilding to become bigger and stronger.
The more you lift, they less it happens
The repeated bout effect is something that should be considered for those more experienced lifters who are constantly looking to get sore because they equate it to effective muscle building. Always chasing that soreness isn’t a good way to measure success, instead you could be doing more damage, which could become a detriment if you’re always stressing your body that way.
As you gain more experience with lifting weights, your muscles and connective tissues become more efficient and build resistance to soreness, despite still creating micro trauma needed to build muscle. So, the more experienced you become, the less sore you may get.
You don’t always have to be sore after the workout and there may be times that you’ll want to play with variables to avoid excessive soreness, too - but that has more to do with the speed and tempo of the lifts, than the heaviness of the weight.
Managing Muscle Soreness
DOMS primarily occurs due to either higher repetitions and/or longer eccentric muscular contractions, also known as the lowering phase. The longer you place tension on your muscles while controlling the weights, the greater chance of being sore the next day.
But . . . if you lift the weights and lower them faster, there is reduced amount of stress on your tissues, so you’re less likely to be sore. This is a variable you’d want to play with if you want to do workouts 2 days in a row, so soreness won’t affect your lifts on day two. Or, if you’re a runner like me and are in the middle of a training cycle and want to minimize muscle soreness, but keep strength and power levels up to stay strong for fall races.
Improving Recovery From DOMS
Although DOMS is a part of life, it doesn’t need to mess up your life for 1 to 3 days after a workout, there are some interventions that will help aide in recovery and reduce the amount of stiffness and soreness you feel after a workout. Make sure to include the following actions after a workout, so you’re not hobbling around regretting those 5 sets of back squats you did yesterday.
Eating properly after a workout is imperative for success and can not only affect your goals, but how you feel after a workout. If you follow up a hard session at the gym, with one at the bar…chances are you may be a little more sore than usual.
Diets high in trans fats, Omega-6 and saturated fats will also affect inflammation, so you’ll want to make sure to keep those to a minimum in your diet. Inflammation isn’t something you want to add to muscles soreness, as it could make it worse or last longer.
Instead, Eating high quality protein, veggies and unprocessed carbs are a great place to start, but think about adding in foods that have inflammatory modulating agents like Garlic, tea, blueberries, pineapples and Turmeric.
Supplements get a bad rap for being bullshit, but I really do feel a difference when I take glutamine and omega 3 fish oil in my diet and they’ve been proven to help aide in the recovery process.
Oh, and don’t forget water. Being hydrated during and after a workout is important, but so is everyday, so make sure you’re getting in at least 3 litres a day.
Really bad soreness could be a sign that your body isn’t recovering enough and, sleep is most likely the number one culprit. Studies have shown that the average sleep cycle is 90 minutes, so aiming for 8 hours is a little bullshit. Personally, I feel great at 6 hours, but you may need more - this is definitely an area that you need to listen to your body. I’d say aim to get between 7 1/2 to 9 hours and you should be good, unless your Lebron James.
Blood Flow, Movement and Circulation
Increasing blood flow is also a great way to reduce and treat muscle soreness. If you’re rich like Scrooge McDuck, get a massage after every workout. If you’re like 99% of the population, just buy a foam roller and move a little the next day.
Rest is important after a hard workout, but not moving is never the answer; even if you’re stiff, a little self massage with a foam roller or stick and some light body weight movements or dynamic stretches will do wonders for helping speed up recovery. I recommend doing a 10 to 15 minute recovery workout the next day that could incorporate some easy body weight movements or maybe a yoga session, focusing on moving your joints through a variety of positions.
Comment below if you have any questions, concerns or, if you think I'm full of shit.
(1) Schoenfeld, Brad (2022) The M.A.X Muscle Plan (2nd edition)