Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is part of the iron game. But how do you manage DOMS? Here's how.

Anybody who's ever worked out with weights or experienced gravity knows about muscle soreness.

But did you know? There are 3 types of muscle pain.

Today, we talk about one of them: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or “DOMS.”

I thought I'd already written some material about this but after searching the archives, I hadn't. So here's an article that's long overdue. Apologies!

3 Types of Muscle Pain

  1. Acute muscle pain or soreness
  2. Injury
  3. DOMS

The first one is simply the pain you feel when you exercise a muscle. Some attribute the pain to lactic acid build up. But it's that pain you feel when you do a fair- to high number of reps. The muscle aches during the last few reps as well as a few minutes (sometimes even hours) afterward.

The second kind of muscle pain is actual injury. I don't think I need to describe it to you. It's one of those things: You know it when you feel it.

Sometimes it's even accompanied by noise. When I injured my elbow years ago, I heard, “POP POP POP POP,” along with a LOT of searing pain. I knew immediately that this wasn't good.

However, a few trips to the chiro, rest, and some therapy got me back to the gym.

What is DOMS?

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is a different beast altogether. You usually don't experience it with every workout, nor do you experience it immediately after working out. It usually takes at least 12 hours to appear. Sometimes, you may not feel sore after an especially hard workout until 48 or even 72 hours later (IMHO, that's when it's really bad).

There are differing opinions on why delayed soreness sets in. Some think it's due to the aforementioned lactic acid build up that causes pain during an exercise. Others think that it's the metabolites that accrue due to the lactic acid buildup. Either way, it happens.

But more prevalent is the opinion that it's actually caused by the eccentric part of an exercise. This is what we call the “negative,” or lowering of the bar.

Exercise physiologists don't really fully understand why DOMS sets in, but we know it when we feel it.

And most of the time, it's glorious.

Yes, that's right – I love it when I'm sore after a workout. I know I had a good workout.

Now, it's sometimes difficult to move after DOMS sets in, especially after an intense leg workout.

But the worst really is the core.

Think about it: You can't sit, stand, or lie down (and then get up) without using your core. It's the worst when DOMS is really hitting you hard.

Which brings up…

How do you relieve DOMS? How do you get rid of it or lessen it?

That's the real question, right?

We know we had a great workout if we get DOMS. But how do you get past the pain and get through your day, much less work out later?

There are a few things that help. I'll share them below in no particular order. (You may be asking why? Which ONE below is most effective? I can't give you an answer. Even for myself, different therapies work to varying degrees each time out. So what do I do? All of them.)

  1. Alternating hot and cold therapy. Take a hot shower for 2-3 minutes, then turn the hot water down as far as you can stand it and shower for 1-2 minutes. Alternate 3-5 times. Concentrate the shower head on the sore muscles. If your chest is sore, concentrate the water there; if it's your legs, focus the stream on them.
    Use the water massage feature of the shower head, if available. Which leads to the next two:
  2. Get a massage. Hell yeah, it will hurt. But a good gentle massage will do wonders for DOMS. Don't get a deep massage unless you're a masochist.
  3. Foam roll. I hate this, probably because it hurts so damned much. And I think sometimes I feel better afterwards just because I stopped. It's like banging your head with a hammer – it feels so good when you quit. But, like a massage, it does seem to work.
  4. Take a hot bath, loaded with epsom salts. This is one of those “home remedies” that actually works. Very well. Finish off, though, with a cold shower. You can get epsom salts almost anywhere. I get mine here.
  5. Do a light workout using the same muscle. I mean really light. Don't do a lot of reps, either. If your legs are sore, just do a few squats with the bar or even bodyweight – just get the blood pumping. That really seems to be the key – increased blood flow. The theory being that there's damage in the muscles (not an injury, mind you) and the blood carries out the toxins and carries in the nutrients that repair the muscles.
  6. Last, try citrulline malate. I use this every day. What I've found is that it cuts way down on DOMS (so I don't get it in the first place).

You will find that as you progress, you will experience DOMS less and less. You'll only get it when you vary your workouts so much that your muscles are caught a little off-guard.

Below is a video from Lee Hayward about DOMS and how to help reduce it once you've got it.

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Bill Davis

Bill Davis has been an avid weight trainer since the age of 12. He started out as a skinny teenager and finally made his training breakthrough in his late 20s when he discovered how to pack on lean muscle in short order.

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