What are DOMS?
Muscle soreness after exercising is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Soreness can range range from a mild ache to severe muscular pain that almost debilitates you. In the most severe cases people wake up unable to get out of bed due to every muscle screaming in agony.
Generally the first cases of DOMS are the worse, and the worse cases are generally in people that have trained before but taken a break from exercise. They have still the strength the train hard but the muscles have become unaccustomed which results in more severe muscle damage.
The delayed in muscle soreness varies between individuals and depends on genetics, fitness and how accustomed they are to a particular exercise routine. Generally soreness starts at around 8 hours after exercise and peaks at 24-72 hours, then subsides. It can take up to a week before soreness completely clears.
What Causes DOMS?
The biological cause is still not understood completely. What is known is that DOMS result from ultrastructural damage to myofilaments in the muscles (damage on the cellular level to filaments of myofibrils that are made from protein), especially the Z-disc. Also the muscle’s connective tissue is damaged. The pain may not actually be caused by the damaged muscles, but could be the result of the inflammation of the muscles during the recovery phase.
DOMS are not equal in all people. Researchers have found that generally the severity of muscle pain is not related directly to the amount of muscle damage. This is the first suggestion that you may actually be OK to train again while still suffering from DOMS as the muscles may recover before the DOMS subsides. This could be due to the inflammation causing DOMS and taking longer to subside than muscle repair.
Eccentric Weight Lifting Causes DOMS
DOMS are caused by eccentric damage to muscles. Isometric and concentric exercise does not cause severe DOMS, in fact concentric exercise rarely results in muscle soreness. Part of the muscle recovery involves adaptation to specific training to lessen the severity of DOMS in future workouts. This is why DOMS are always worse after the first sessions and lessen as you become more accustomed to a particular exercise.
How to Prevent DOMS
One way to prevent DOMS is to maintain regular exercise. Muscles become accustomed to a particular movement during the recovery process and they become better equipped after each workout. The protective effect of regular exercise can last for weeks, maybe in some people a few months. However, within a year of the last workout the protection will disappear completely meaning that you start over again. This is why the first workout after a long break can be very painful.
To reduce the effect of DOMS you should always build up your workouts slowly to start with, as this allows you to train on a more regular basis. Although training with DOMS is not always a bad idea (see below) the physiological impact of suffering from muscle pain is often enough to prevent people performing an adequately intensive workout.
If you are performing high intensity weight training then splitting your workouts up so that you do not need to perform the same eccentric exercises in the same week is the best option.
Stretching before or after exercise does not help treat muscle soreness. Some people claim coffee helps, although there is nothing concrete on this.
Training With DOMS is OK
The reasoning for not training when suffering from DOMS is that it will lead to further injury and overtraining. However, it is thought that training with DOMS does not actually cause more injury or slow down recovery. Continued use of the muscle actually helps to reduce soreness in the short term, although it may be uncomfortable to exercise to start with. You may hear some fitness instructors saying “work through the pain“. They are probably on the right track.
Of course, you may still be overtraining if you train with DOMS simply because if you have DOMS you may still be in the muscle recovery stage. But it you train different muscle groups or perform concentric and isometric exercises then you will not be overworking the muscles that were damaged previously. This is essentially why split routines are recommended in any form of fitness training, so that you can allow recovery in one set of muscles while continuing to work others.
How To Treat DOMS
Rest. Some people respond well to massage or hot baths. Low intensity work helps too. If you are suffering from a heavy weight training sessions then it could be a good opportunity to do some lighter exercises, get on the cross trainer or rower, or perform callisthenics or isometrics.
One last thing to consider is that the effect of light exercise seems to vary depending on the type of exercise that is performed that leads to DOMS. Endurance athletes often respond better to a gentle job to “run it off” than bodybuilders.
Managing Your Muscle Soreness and DOMS
To conclude, it really is a personal matter. People suffer differently, degrees and duration of pain vary according to gender, age, types of exercise performed, fitness and experience. Training with DOMS will not slow down recovery, however the additional damage may put a greater toll on your body and slow overall recovery.
Ensuring that you are getting adequate rest and are well nourished is vital. Aim for 8 hours sleep a night and ensure that your are supplying your muscles with plenty of proteins. The muscle damage is caused by protein structures being broken down and essential amino-acids (dietary sources) are required to repair the muscle.
If DOMS are preventing you from performing a good workout then it may be wise to take a rest or do something different. If you can work through the pain then you should not suffer more as a result though. There is not really a need to rest until all aching has gone – this would mean only exercising once a week for some people.
If you log your progress well you should be able to determine if you are overtraining. If working with DOMS seems to be resulting in you not progressing, i.e. not lifting heavier weights or improving running times, then it could well be a sign that you are indeed overtraining. Improving nutrition and sleep could quicken recovery this allowing more frequent training, so before you decide to slow down your training, increase sleep and nutrition first.
Common Overtraining Problems with Bodybuilding and Fitness
Overtraining is generally regarded as one of the biggest and most common problems bodybuilders and athletes face. Overtraining can affect anyone that performs a lot of intensive exercise on a regular basis. However, do not confuse overtraining problems with being tired and unfit – sometimes you need to do more, not less!
It is not restricted to bodybuilders by any means, as it can affect runners, martial artists, gymnasts, footballers etc. Essentially any activity that works the muscles can lead to overtraining if not done correctly.
What is Overtraining?
Overtraining is simply when muscles are being repeatedly worked without adequate recovery. After intensive exercise, especially weight training, the muscles need time to recover, and also they require nutrients to aid recovery.
Even if a bodybuilder rests well between each session, if the muscles are not receiving enough protein to aid recovery, or enough glycogen to fuel them during the next workout, then overtraining problems start. Overtraining can also occur in one session of the workout is too intense for the person to handle, and it can then take a long time for full recovery.
When lifting weights, or performing any weight bearing anaerobic exercise, muscle tissue is damaged, with tiny tears appearing all over the muscles. This is why we ache. If this does not repair properly before the next intensive workout, more damage is done.
The idea of bodybuilding is to build bigger and stronger muscles, but if the muscles are not given time and nutrients to recover, then muscle tissue can actually start to deteriorate.
Also, the sufferer will feel weaker, and find it harder to complete the usual workout. Some people think that they are better of battling on, and perform more reps, more sessions, and work harder. All the time, slowly making themselves weaker!
How to Avoid Overtraining
The best way to avoid overtraining is to ensure that the follow rules are followed:
- Follow a bodybuilding training routine – split routines to prevent overtraining in one session
- Learn how to fuel your muscles. Eat enough carbohydrate to build up glycogen reserves, and enough protein to repair damaged muscle tissue, and also plenty of vitamins and minerals also.
- Ensure that you rest well between each session. The more intense a training session is, the longer the rest needs to be.
- Ensure that you get 8 hours sleep. The body recovers best when sleeping, and lack of sleep alone can lead to overtraining.
It is especially important to take care when working on your back, as overtraining could lead to long term back problems. Beginners weight training advice often fails to highlight the importance of not overtraining.
However, saying all this, some people do actually think that overtraining can be beneficial in small doses, but only when additional rest is guaranteed. An example of this would be to deliberately over-train just before a holiday, as while on holiday you will no doubt get enough rest and nutrients to recover well.
The Importance of Rest for Muscle Recovery
Newcomers to bodybuilding assume that when they are in the gym lifting weights, they are building muscle. They are wrong. Lifting weights merely stimulates the muscles into growing. The muscles only grow when resting, and mostly when asleep.
Without adequate rest, muscles will not be able to repair the damage done during training and grow. Bodybuilders and athletes should always aim to get 8 hours sleep each night. Some may even take afternoon sleeps to ensure that recovery is maximized.
The Importance of Nutrition for Muscle Recovery
Another mistake many people make is thinking that to build muscles, all you need is more protein. However, our muscles only use protein to repair and rebuild muscle tissue. To actually work, they use glycogen, which is converted from carbohydrates. So athletes and bodybuilders need to ensure that they have a balanced diet.
Raw salad, pulses, vegetables and fruits are all essential, as well as lean meats, fish, chicken and eggs. The purpose of most bodybuilding supplements is to ensure that you have enough carbs and protein in your diet. However, if you are not working hard enough, the supplement could be giving you too much carbs, which can make losing fat more difficult.
Bodybuilding Information Websites
There is a lot of advice on Bodybuilding for beginners available on the Internet, however when starting a beginners weight training / bodybuilding regime, advice often fails to highlight the dangers of overtraining.
Always remember that a weight training workout that is shared on a forum may work well for someone that has been working out for several years, and knows how to fuel their muscles, and also gets plenty of rest. However, many people have overtrained after following workout advice without learning about rest, recovery and nutrition. Stay safe, stay healthy, and grow!
References and Further Reading
- Kokkinos, Peter (2009). Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Disease Prevention. Jones & Bartlett Learning. pp. 111–112. ISBN 9780763756123. Full text available on Google Books
- Postexercise Muscle Soreness by Divakara Kedlaya, MBBS.
Advertisement: Understanding how to deal with muscle soreness is one step in keeping overall wellness. If you would like to help others maintain good health consider a health care management degree online.