Understanding ‘DOMS’

We’ve all been there, we’ve all experienced it, we all recognise the feeling. The dreaded, debilitating, down right nasty ‘DOMS’, or delayed onset muscle soreness. But what do you understand about the term, what it means and how it impacts our progress in the gym?

‘DOMS’ is usually experienced one to two days after a workout, hence the inclusion of the word ‘delayed’ at the outset. It is important to note that immediate muscle soreness is not the same. This is most likely to be an injury or the result of a very, very intense effort. While there is a notion that muscle soreness is the sign of an effective workout, and correlates with results, this isn’t always the case.

‘DOMS’ – A sliding scale

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that ‘DOMS’ aren’t always the same. They’re a bit of a sliding scaling. Sometimes they’re very intense and can leave us hobbling around for days on end. Sometimes they’re very minor and can only be noticed when trying to use the same muscles again. Having severe muscle soreness does not mean that you’re going to achieve excellent results. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. Severe muscle soreness is generally a sign that someone has gone above and beyond what was necessary. This is evidenced by the length of recovery that’s now required to be able to perform an increased effort of the same thing that got them there in the first place.

Consistency is Key

The first and most important rule of working out, and achieving results, is consistency. Therefore, if a person has damaged their muscles so much that it affects their consistency, it’s not good for them. Arguably, the second most important rule of working out for progress is increased difficulty, or overload. It’s therefore imperative that our efforts aren’t so intense that they leave us with nowhere to go.

So far, this all suggests that muscle soreness is bad, which isn’t the case. It is common, and, to some degree, will be expected throughout the first handful of times we perform a new movement. I’ve purposefully used some very subjective terms there, as it differs from person to person. This leads us on to another general rule: every time you expose yourself to a new movement, and accumulate some fatigue whilst doing so, you can expect some amount of muscle soreness. All very well and good.

So, what should you do if ‘DOMS’ is unbearable and happening very consistently? 

  1. You should rest but not become sedentary! Resting can be anything that is of very little effort; take a walk, a very leisurely bike ride or even some gentle rowing. Keeping your body moving promotes blood flow throughout your muscles. This will allow the recovery process to take place even quicker. If soreness is so severe that walking is too much of an effort, then you should really dial back on the effort or amount that you’re doing to avoid heading down injury lane.
  2. Start tracking the amount of workload that’s making you so sore. Tracking is a fantastic tool that is often very under-utilised. It allows you to find objective and successful formulas that will serve you well for a very long time. It also allows you to find objective, unsuccessful formulas that need to be adjusted if you are going to perform them again. In my opinion, making a conscious effort to improve awareness will vastly improve results.

DOMS – Friend or Foe?

To round things up, muscle soreness is common. It’s not something to be afraid of but it’s not something to be sought after either. It is more important that you are consistent with working out and employing some form of increased difficulty (overload) from time to time, to allow for progress. Sore muscles do not equate with a good workout or increased results. If you happen to experience severe muscle soreness, try tracing back and noting down what lead to such soreness so you can adjust things in the future. Remember that rest is best accomplished whilst staying active but not fatiguing yourself.

As usual, it’s best to have a coach of your own who can help prescribe and adjust things for you to keep you on track for your goals. If you’re in or around the Bishop’s Stortford area and are looking for a coach who can do this for you, then Lift Off Gym is the place for you.

Coach Mike

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