DOMS – What is it and what to expect

DOMS - Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Part 1

Why do we get it in the first place?

DOMS - Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Part 1

Why do we get it in the first place?
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Welcome to part one in this two-part series in which we will discuss why you get sore from your workouts and what you can do to reduce and recover from soreness caused by exercise as quickly as possible.

We're Talking About DOMS!

DOMS stands for...

Delayed
Onset
Muscle
Soreness.

You may not have heard this term before, but if you’ve ever stepped foot into a gym, taken up a running routine, or even done a day’s worth of heavy yard work, you are likely very familiar with its effects

DOMS is just the technical term for feeling really, really sore after a workout. It’s hard to forget how your butt felt the next few days after your boot camp instructor made you do a hundred air squats.

You are sore! You are really, really, really sore.

In fact, sometimes DOMS can feel so bad you might think you’ve done permanent damage to your body!

But why do muscles hurt so much after exercise in the first place?

Is there a way to prevent them from aching so bad afterward?

Will your muscles always hurt this bad if you continue exercising?

Is there such a thing as “good soreness,” or should you worry about damaging your muscles permanently?

No pain, no gain, right? Or at least that’s what we’ve been told. But what if that pain is so bad it prevents you from working out again for three weeks? I’d be willing to guess that would have an adverse impact on our intended results.

So why do you get sore in the first place?

If you ask around, a lot of fitness-minded people might have an answer for you. They may say that the soreness you feel can be attributed to the buildup of something called “Lactic Acid” in your muscles.

This lactic acid builds up as you exercise, and afterward, the muscles remain sore until it has been flushed out by the lymphatic system.

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“But don’t worry,” they say, “As you continue to exercise your lymphatic system will become more efficient at removing lactic acid and other waste products causing the soreness.”

So it sounds like lactic acid that causes muscle pain, right?

Well... sort of... but not really.

Lactic acid can definitely cause muscle soreness. There’s no question about that. If you’ve ever sprinted as far and as fast as you can, maybe chasing after a bus, you’ve felt the burning effects of lactic acid.

When your overly enthusiastic boot camp instructor yells at you to “Feel the burn,” what she is actually telling you is to push your energy system past the lactate threshold, causing a buildup of lactic acid in your muscles and inducing an incredibly uncomfortable burning sensation.

Your muscles scream at you to stop and, eventually, you will have to. Congratulations! You have just flooded your system with a level of lactic acid your body is not able to process fast enough to keep up with the exercise producing it.

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It must be the case, then, that if you don’t listen to your neon spandex wearing boot camp instructors’ cries to “Feel the burn,” you will keep yourself from feeling like you got hit by a dump truck for the next few days. No lactic acid buildup, no three days of horrifying muscle pain, right?

The problem is… well, the problem is this kind of thinking falls into what has been called “Bro science.” Bro science is named after the techniques gym-goers use to build muscle and increase fitness, and the understanding of the physiology behind the changes supported entirely by gym culture meme’s and almost never by science.

While some bro science techniques do inevitably become backed up by scientific understandings of the purported results, you should listen to most bro science with caution and a healthy dose of skepticism.

Lactic acid causing extended muscle soreness is one of those things you would want to have listened to with skepticism.

In fact, excess lactic acid caused by intense exercise will be entirely processed and returned to normal levels within one or two hours post-exercise, regardless of the person’s fitness level.

If lactic acid doesn’t cause muscle soreness, what does?

There are two primary mechanisms believed to be the cause of DOMS. The first is an overabundance of calcium leftover within muscle cells following strenuous exercise. When this calcium breaks down, it results in inflammation of the muscle cells, inducing pain.

The second cause is the whole reason we lift weights in the first place; When you lift weights, you cause micro trauma to the muscles fibers, stimulating the body to respond by rebuilding the fibers to a stronger, more resilient level.

Micro trauma of the muscle fibers also stimulates pain receptors within the muscle, and continue to do so while those tissues heal.

You are, in effect, tearing your muscles down when you workout, so it should be expected that the local pain receptors would send signals to the brain that something caused damage to the body.

MILO WAS A 6 TIME OLYMPIC CHAMPION IN ANCIENT GREECE. HE IS MOST FAMOUS FOR A MYTH THAT HE WAS ABLE TO LIFT A FULL GROWN BULL OVER HIS SHOULDERS! HE ACCOMPLISHED THIS BY STARTING IN CHILDHOOD, LIFTING AND CARRYING A NEWBORN CALF AND REPEATING THE FEAT DAILY AS IT GREW TO MATURITY. THIS IS THE SAME FITNESS CONCEPT WE KNOW TODAY AS "PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD".

The continued and intensified pain at the exercised muscles has been thought by some researchers to be a way of reducing movement while the tissue heals, but this may not be the best thing for you to do, as we will go into next when we talk about how to reduce the pain.

As always, thank you for taking time out of your day to read this post. I hope you got something from it! If you did, or if you have any questions, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to leave a comment or share it with a friend.

Check out part two of this series where we discover the best way for reducing exercised induced soreness to get you back in the gym... or just off the couch... as quickly as possible!

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Taylor Patterson

Certified Personal Trainer
Certified Nutrition Coach
Certified Behaviour Change Specialist

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