Delayed onset muscle soreness, aka DOMS, is pain that you feel between 24 and 48 hours after training. DOMS used to be thought of as pain caused by lactic acid build up following a workout however modern-day studies can confirm that the direct cause of DOMS is microscopic tearing within the muscle fibres. This tearing is a result of performing exercises that the body is not totally accustomed to leading many athletes and trainers to believe that DOMS is a sign of effective training. Whilst some people hate it with a passion, others will deliberately quest to achieve DOMS following their workout, wearing it as a badge of honour and using it as an indication that they are indeed working out hard enough. It is a hot topic with many experts arguing that soreness following a workout should not be used as a measuring stick and stating that gains in fitness, size and strength can all come without walking like John Wayne following leg day. Others will contest that when DOMS fades away this is a sure sign that the body has hit a plateau and grown accustomed to training. A lack of DOMS could indicate that it is time to mix things up and change your routine. No pain no gain, right?
The most important point is to know that DOMS is a normal part of training especially with resistance routines however it should never be confused with pain that occurs with genuine injury.
DOMS can sometimes seem even worse the day after the day after and whilst the magic normally tends to appear within 24 hours of your workout there are occasions where soreness is at its sharpest nearly two days after nailing that killer leg workout. Don’t stress, this is normal however if you are nearing a week following a workout and the pain is still unbearable, this could indicate one too many reps. Look for your DOMS to be fading off around the third to fourth day after training enabling you to go back and crush another workout on that particular muscle group. If you do however occasionally over-do it and you find yourself limping like you’ve had double knee surgery, then there are some things you can do to ease your suffering.
One solution is salts in a warm bath. Bath salts are rich in magnesium which helps widen your blood vessels to boost recovery and help to alleviate soreness. If you are feeling a little braver you can go for the ice bath approach which many athletes will swear helps them recover following a heavy workout.
Another way to assist in speeding up recovery and helping to remove soreness is by wearing compression clothing. Compression clothing can help to speed up the recovery process by closing the tears within the muscle fibres however the ultimate solution is nutrition. Ensure that you are getting enough calories down your neck from the right sources, so your body can rebuild. Protein is of course essential whilst you need to ensure you don’t skip on the greens. Chicken, salmon or steak with broccoli with sweet potato is an example of a great muscle building meal.
Whilst you may not enjoy having DOMS you can also perform light training to push through some of the stiffness and soreness. Swimming and light aerobic training is a great way to ease off the pain caused by heavy workouts. If you feel like you can then feel free to train on light DOMS however this is ultimately up to you. The takeaway point is that the only way to totally avoid DOMS is by not training at all. This is not an option. Learn to embrace a little soreness from time to time and use your nutrition intelligently to repair. Know when you have overdone things and keep your soreness within reasonable limits.