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  • Writer's pictureDoug Joachim

Dominate D.O.M.S – Soreness!

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Have you ever experienced such intense soreness after a workout that even sitting down or walking becomes a challenge? That extreme soreness is your body's way of telling you that you may have pushed too hard. For a long time, there was a misconception that this soreness, known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), was caused by lactic acid build-up. But the truth is, lactic acid doesn't even exist in the body—it's lactate. Lactate is actually a fuel released from the muscles, which is then converted to glucose in the liver and used as an energy source. Rather than causing fatigue or a burning sensation, lactate helps delay a drop in blood glucose levels and slows down the rate at which cells become acidic.

Technically speaking, DOMS is (primarily) caused by a type 1 muscle strain – some degree of fiber damage, but nothing too serious – predominantly as a result of unaccustomed exercise. As you may have experienced, DOMS can range from slight muscle discomfort to severe pain that limits range of motion. Generally, muscle soreness becomes noticeable ~8 hours post-workout and peaks 48-72 hours later, although the exact time course can vary.

Delayed onset muscle soreness typically occurs 8 to 72 hours after performing a new physical activity or overloading the neuromuscular system through exercise or daily activities. It's a symptom of muscle damage caused by overloading the system. DOMS is primarily caused by two types of muscle contractions: eccentric contractions (the lowering phase of a lift or movement) and isometric contractions (the static phase of a contraction). The lifting part of an exercise, known as concentric contraction, doesn't typically cause soreness. However, incorporating a variety of exercises and contractions in your workouts can help maximize your results, depending on your goals and limitations. Exercises that involve slower eccentric phases, such as lunges, squats, and bench press, are more likely to cause soreness. However, the consensus among researchers is that there is no single component that causes DOMS. Instead, there are a number of complex events that may explain this phenomenon.

Let's debunk some common myths about muscle soreness:

  1. Myth: Soreness is caused by lactic acid buildup. In reality, it's believed to be caused by inflammation, which leads to the production of metabolic waste that stimulates the nerves, resulting in that burning pain.

  2. Myth: Stretching reduces soreness. Recent studies suggest that stretching, whether performed before, after, or both before and after exercise, does not significantly reduce soreness.

  3. Myth: Being sore is a sign of progress. You don't necessarily need to experience soreness to make gains in strength and fitness. Individuals can still make progress even if they don't experience DOMS.

  4. Myth: DOMS is always a good sign. There is some evidence to show DOMS may negatively affect workouts by altering motor patterns in subsequent workouts. This could cause reduced activation of the desired muscle. DOMS could actually hinder your next workout. In addition, severe DOMS can decrease force capacity by up to 50%!

There is little doubt that DOMS is correlated with exercise-induced muscle damage to some degree; however, measures of muscle damage at a microscopic level are poorly correlated with reports of soreness. Basically, if you’re really sore, it doesn’t mean you completely “shredded” your muscles. This is supported by MRI images showing little damage to some muscles post-exercise. Not only do the time course of changes in the markers of muscle damage differ from one another, but they also don’t match the time course of muscle soreness (Newham, 1988). It is possible for severe DOMS to develop with little or no indication of muscle damage, and for severe damage to occur without DOMS.

To minimize and prevent DOMS, consider the following strategies:

  • Aim for a good night's sleep of 7-9 hours without sleeping pills.

  • Consuming fish or fish oil supplements may be beneficial based on some data.

  • Warm up adequately before your workouts.

  • Progress gradually through smart periodization and take small steps forward.

  • Stay hydrated by drinking water.

  • Consider getting a sports massage after your workout.

  • Taking ibuprofen or aspirin after the workout may provide some relief. Although research suggests NSAIDs may hamper some lean muscle development.

Remember, everyone's body responds differently, so it's essential to listen to your own body and adjust your training accordingly.

Doug Joachim – NYC


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