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DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

All you need to know about DOMS

Regular exercise helps keep our bones and muscles strong and is fun right! But is there a painful side to doing the right thing for your bod? If you follow a regular exercise routine, you are more likely able to get through each day pain free; but if you are new to exercise, have not exercised in a while or are trying something different, you can expect a visit from the pain, soreness and discomfort that comes with making your muscles do something they aren’t accustomed to.

You glide out of the gym after a good workout feeling amazing, only to wake up the next morning feeling like you’ve gone a few rounds with Tyson. You are not alone, any soreness you experience after exercise is very common and is known as DOMS. It isn’t a pleasant feeling and can happen to anyone – including athletes and personal trainers so don’t feel bad!


What is DOMS?

DOMS stands for ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’. As the name suggests, DOMS is the soreness and discomfort you may experience after exercise, particularly if that exercise is something you are not used to doing. For instance, if you usually walk as your main form of cardio exercise then decide to go for an epic bike ride, you might find that your legs are very stiff and sore hours later.

DOMS from exercising isn’t immediate, it occurs after a period of hours. This means that initially you will feel great after your exercise session but in 24-72 hrs the unmistakable DOMS soreness and stiffness will set in. Typically, you’ll find this happens after you have been inactive, sitting or lying down for a few hours. During this time your muscles cool down, blood flow returns to normal and your body realises it has been made to do some form of activity that it wasn’t expecting. Lactic acid build-up and trauma to the muscles sends the body into a healing process and before you know it’s difficult to get around. DOMS usually lasts between 3 and 5 days.

What Causes DOMS?

Our bodies are creatures of habit (and to some degree quite lazy) and prefer to do the same thing day in and day out because it is easy. Just like a little kid, our bodies like to know what to expect, and don’t particularly like to be challenged because it means it has to work harder. This is why personal trainers commonly recommend changing your routine regularly because it shakes things up a bit, and helps you avoid the dreaded DOMS.

Making your body do something it is not used to is the root cause of DOMS. Even the most ripped and experienced exercisers, trainers, and athletes will experience a case of DOMS if they change up their typical routine.


Can DOMS be prevented?

DOMS is tough to dodge. You COULD try never exercising, never getting sick or injured and never EVER change your routine; but that’s neither possible, or good for you. Even if you don’t exercise you can still experience DOMS simply by doing something your body is not used to (such as mopping the floor, carrying a heavy weight, or doing the gardening). While you can’t prevent DOMS as such, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of it occurring and the severity.

  • If you are new to exercise or returning after illness, injury or pregnancy, start slowly and gradually build up. Choose beginner versions of resistance exercises and try not to force yourself to work at a certain intensity level or lift a certain amount of weight. Pushing yourself too hard will not only result in a case of DOMS but you also run the risk of injury.
  • Make sure you warm up and cool down properly (at least five minutes each) aiming to gradually raise your pulse and blood flow to muscles for the warm up, and gradually lowering your pulse and blood flow to muscles for the cool down. Doing this for the cool down is particularly important for preventing blood pooling in the calf muscles.
  • Another tip to reduce the likelihood of DOMS is to make sure you stretch well at the end of your exercise session. Static stretches are particularly good and should be held for between 30-60 seconds.
  • If you are changing your routine try not to make the changes too dramatic. For instance if you are used to walking for 30 minutes at 60% intensity, don’t suddenly change to cycling for 45 minutes at 80% intensity. Not only will you struggle to complete your exercise session but you are guaranteed to feel it the next day.


Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness Treatment?

Because the cause of DOMS is similar to a minor injury, it is often treated in the same way. Make sure you include an active recovery component in your workout to help your body cool down and return to normal slowly. Doing so allows the lactic acid which builds up during exercise to be removed from your muscles as your heart rate gradually slows down.

You will find that you don’t feel too bad when you are up and about and your muscles are warmed up. It’s only when you stand still, sit down, or go to bed that the soreness and stiffness really takes hold. This is because warm muscles equal increased blood flow and healing. Cold muscles on the other hand allow the muscles to ‘seize up’ and it can take a lot to get them going again. Massages, warm baths, and gentle stretching all help to increase blood flow to your stiff and sore muscles and fast-track the healing process. If you overdid it and are suffering from severe debilitating DOMS, anti inflammatories can soften the symptoms; but won’t aid the recovery. If it takes more than a week for you to recover, you should get checked out.


Don’t Sweat the DOMS

DOMS is a completely normal and natural part of exercise and life. Look on the bright side, it’s satisfying pain that tells you your body is getting stronger and healthier as it nobley rises to the exercise challenge.

While it is difficult to prevent it entirely, it is possible to reduce the severity, and it can be treated. The most important thing you can do when it comes to DOMS is to know when to expect it so you can at least be prepared to cope.

So, if you are starting or resuming an exercise program or changing your routine, just remember that come the following morning, you may find it hard to get out of bed; but that’s a good thing in disguise and it won’t last forever. Give yourself a (gentle) pat on the back DOMS is good pain!


(c) Copyright ifeelgood 24/7 express health clubs – updated 18th February 2020