Understanding Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

Do not seek out DOMS. Soreness has nothing to do with progress and should be seen as a neutral side effect. You must avoid training through DOMS though since your capabilities will be reduced.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is temporary but can feel severe. It comes about as a tender and stiff feeling when moving along with a sensitivity to touch. It usually arrives 8-12 hours after exercise and peaks 24-60 hours afterward. In some cases, it can halve the force output of a muscle until it goes away, so I suggest not lifting through it. It occurs under these conditions.

  • After a long layoff or for the first time performing a specific exercise.
  • As a result of lengthening contractions.

Facts

If muscular soreness is produced in an area of the body that has been trained for as long as a week, this is a clear indication that you have not been training hard enough.

– Arthur Jones

  • It probably comes from microtrauma that swells the contracting parts of the muscle.

This is the leading theory but other factors may play a role.

Calcium leakage from mechanical stress followed by build-up in the wrong places can throw off your muscle’s internal balance and lead to cell damage. Connective tissue may stretch too far. Parts of the nervous system that signal muscle contraction may get disrupted.

DOMS likely comes from actual damage to the muscle fibers but who knows for sure. It could arise from all of these factors. Knowing this process has no effect on our decisions though.

  • It associates with eccentric contractions.

This comes from more tension and stretching compared to other phases. The concentric phase occurs when you lift a weight and an isometric phase occurs when your muscles contract with no movement. The eccentric phase of an exercise occurs when you lower weights or absorb shock such as when landing from a jump.

Some eccentric loading is needed to best stimulate size and strength, but it is a double-edged sword. It ranks as the last level of strength, as you will fail in lifting and holding a given weight yet still feel able to lower it in control. Approaching failure in lowering weights can be devastating. Recovery can last up to 5-30 days depending on how severely you apply negative exercise.

It seems you likely get enough negative exercise doing normal reps with both a lifting and lowering phase.

  • As you grow experienced, soreness will occur closer to right after a workout or not at all.

A couple days or any longer delay between your session and the soreness indicates a more severe response. You should not strive to feel sore after every workout though. Many make the mistake of seeking out DOMS and therefore include dangerous variety.

  • It is a useless and subjective feeling.

Science cannot measure how severe DOMS feels and no proof shows any connection between soreness and progress.

This fails to stop many from using DOMS to judge a workout though. They avoid measuring progress through heavier weights or more reps instead. They do many sets and exercises but rarely work hard while in the moment. This leads to poor results yet still causes constant soreness that may allow overtraining.

Seeking out soreness also may lead to injury, since changing things up can make you sore but harm your joints and spur less growth if you cycle in bad exercises.

  • Consistency alone defeats DOMS.

Muscles adapt via the repeated bout effect. A muscle adapts to handle the damage and limit future DOMS with just one session. This protection can last for weeks.

Notice that beginners feel more sore yet place less stress on their bodies compared to when they grow advanced and use much heavier weights. Soreness is not required for results and may even hamper them. A good routine by nature limits DOMS since it focuses on only the most basic and best exercises.

More vitamins, antioxidants, BCAAs, protein, and warm or cold therapies along with other remedies may ease the pain but have only a negligible effect on the root of the problem. Painkillers may weaken new muscle tissue so avoid them. You really just need time to recover instead.

Light exercise such as walking and stretching once again may treat the effect and not the cause.

Consistency establishes the best protection. As long as you are healthy, work as hard as you can no matter what. The soreness will feel severe if unaccustomed to the exercise due to your beginner status or if you took a layoff, but you will tolerate it after just a couple workouts.

Ignore DOMS

A good program allows your numbers to improve. This simplifies everything and works better than unproven measurements for progress. These include hormone level readings, perceived exertion scales, how sore you feel, and other useless jazz. Believing in these is akin to having a single piece of a puzzle and then claiming to know the whole picture as a result.

Instead, work toward heavier and heavier weights with any reasonable rep range and use good form.

Train hard and smart. Progression is the only true test for results. Ignore delayed onset muscle soreness.

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