What Is DOMS?

What Is DOMS?

Anyone who has exercised a day in their life is familiar with those aches and pains you get during workouts. And then of course, the ‘morning after’ pains — those groan-inducing aches that can almost make you rethink working out in the first place. Well, those aches have a name – DOMS.

DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. It’s essentially caused by tiny tears that occur in the muscle fibre during workouts. Before you freak out about ‘tears’ in the muscle fibre, let me be clear — that’s completely normal. During intense workouts, tiny (like, microscopic tiny!) tears are caused in the engaged muscles. The body then works to rebuild these muscles, a process that burns calories. That’s essentially how exercise works to help you build muscle and burn fat even post your workout, by the way. Your lesson for the day!

DOMS | Fitness Blog | The Bellyrina Diaries

Coming back to what DOMS is all about. According to studies and observations, DOMS is noted as being caused more by eccentric portions of resistance exercises than concentric ones. Eccentric muscle movements are those in which the muscles are lengthened — for instance, the lowering motion during a bicep curl. Conversely, concentric muscle movements are the ones where the muscle is contracted or squeezed, like the lifting/curling motion of a bicep curl. The reason for this is that eccentric training causes greater muscle fiber and connective tissue disruption, and greater release of enzymes associated with muscle damage.

Let me throw some science at you now. During exercise, damage occurs not only to the muscle fibres themselves, but also to the muscle cell membrane, known as the sarcolemma. This causes a small amount of inflammation or swelling in the affected muscle. The pain of DOMS is often not just the pain of tears in the muscle tissue, but of the edema or inflammation that follows the workout.

Muscle Tissue Anatomy | DOMS | The Bellyrina Diaries

Now I know a lot of people who equate the pain of DOMS to a successful workout — “Oh man, my quads are killing me, I totally crushed those squats”, or “Man, my abs hurt when I laugh, I guess those crunches are doing their job!” This isn’t quite an accurate way to judge the success or efficacy of a workout, though. You can have a perfectly good workout without feeling DOMS, and you can feel DOMS without a truly optimal workout. The whole ‘No pain, no gain’ adage is frightfully misleading!

DOMS is, however, one indicator of possible future hypertrophy. When the body heals muscle tears, much like white blood cells battle an infection, the tears are reinforced with slightly stronger muscle tissue than the original. In this roundabout way, localised inflammation – a source of DOMS – leads to a growth response that increases the ability of the muscle tissue to withstand future damage!

That said, I must emphasise again — DOMS is NOT to be considered a direct marker of a successful workout. I know a lot of trainers who will have you believe that soreness is the goal, and that it signifies you’ve truly worked your muscles. For want of a better term, that falls under the category of ‘bro science’. Training with DOMS as the end goal can leave you feeling dissatisfied with your workout, or even straining yourself to the point of injury in your quest for soreness.

Different bodies also experience DOMS differently. But it commonly sets in within 8 to 12 hours of a workout, and stays uncomfortable for about 36 to 48 hours, post which the discomfort eases.

Is there such a thing as too much soreness? Indeed there is. All too often, I see participants and clients push themselves far too hard, not realising they’re doing more harm than good. Let me put it this way — if you can’t comb your hair the day after an upper body workout because you’re in too much pain, you went too far. That level of soreness likely means you’ve caused muscle damage beyond what your body can repair in a day. Should that happen, rest the area. Pushing through the pain is not heroic, it’s foolhardy.

DOMS Injuries | Fitness Blog | The Bellyrina Diaries

And of course, the million-dollar question — Can anything be done to ease DOMS? Absolutely! A great way to start is with a hot shower post your workout. The heat gets the blood rushing to your muscles, and helps speed up recovery. If you’re bathing rather than showering, adding salt to your bath water has been known to help. Gentle massage and stretching can also improve circulation, and ease some of the cramping. If you’re very uncomfortable, taking an OTC anti-inflammatory like Combiflam or ibuprofen can help, too — just don’t make a habit of it.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, one of the best ways to ease muscle soreness, is to exercise. A little light cardio gets the muscles warm and the blood pumping, which accelerates muscle regeneration. It’s important to note, however, that this works only for regular DOMS that doesn’t cripple you. If you have intense soreness (like being unable to comb your hair or sit in a chair), then simply rest and try the earlier tips.

In case you’d rather not have to deal with DOMS at all, well… sorry bro, that isn’t really an option (unless you simply stop exercising, which should not be an option!). The best precaution to minimise DOMS is to ensure you warm up properly before any workout. Ensuring your muscles are warm and stretchy helps minimise the damage they endure during your routine. So work up a good sweat, and maybe even add a little foam rolling to loosen up more, before you head for those weights.

Now that you understand DOMS a little better, go forth and conquer that workout! And if you have any of your own personal remedies for the post-workout pain fest, leave them in the comments so other people can give them a try 🙂


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