Written by Nathan Travell
DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is the pain felt in muscles typically 24-72 hours post-workout. DOMS is caused by acute muscle damage and subsequent inflammation. It is usually caused when the body is exposed to a new stimulus – for instance, introducing a new movement into your resistance training routine or drastically increasing your workout volume.
We can get around this by either introducing new movements at a low volume, and build up over time (most people tend to get soreness in their first week or two, but rarely get sore after that as they progress), or to do the opposite and introduce the new movement at incredibly high volume. The later means that you will feel much more pain over the coming 48 hours, but it also means that it is unlikely that you will feel DOMS again with that movement as your body will adapt.
I advise going with the former, as the second option can lead to injury, rhabdomyolysis (where excessive muscle damage causes your kidneys to be overwhelmed when trying to clear the blood stream of proteins).
Eccentric movements (where the muscle contracts but increases in length) – such as slowed lowering, fast contracting tempos, or movements where weight is released at the bottom – produce much more DOMS than other training methods.
Why do we want to get around this pain? Aside from the obvious (it hurts), most people find that their performance typically tends to drop (reducing fat loss/muscle gain improvements or sports performance) until they have recovered. There is also the implication that extended periods of DOMS can result in tendonitis where muscle breakdown can exceed muscle growth matched with chronic pain. The pain can also change the way you move, potentially resulting in injuries as you introduce new movement patterns under load.
Eating a fast digesting protein source (such as whey protein) post-workout will quickly give your muscles some much-needed protein to start their repairs. Research shows that adding some carbs (at a ratio of 3:1-4:1) may lead to muscle tissue absorbing the protein faster.
Why is this important? Well, protein is what is needed for muscle repair, and well, if you have just damaged your muscles with some incredible resistance training, what do you think you need?
Using ice can reduce inflammation. This will mean that your muscle tissue will have less swelling, leading to less pain. The issue with this, however, is that inflammation is NEEDED in order for muscles to grow (it is an essential part of adaptation – swelling leads to increased blood flow, thus requires increased protein for repairs).
Only use ice to reduce swelling if the pain is absolutely unbearable. Overuse can result in slower muscle growth. On the other hand, excessive pain and swelling can result in increased muscle breakdown and certain issues such as tendonitis. The key here is moderation, with an appropriate amount of workout volume and rest.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen can reduce pain from DOMS by inhibiting the release of prostaglandins (molecules responsible for localised swelling in injured areas). It is important to note that this should not be your chronic go-to method of dealing with DOMS as local inflammation is important for muscle growth. It is okay to use now and again, but you should deal with the symptoms (poor recovery, diet, unfamiliar volume/movements) in the long term.
DOMS is the soreness that you feel for 2-3 days post workout possibly caused by muscle damage.
New movements, increased workout volume and eccentric movements typically cause more DOMS.
Reducing inflammation in the sore area via the use of ice or NSAIDs can reduce pain, but should not be long term methods of dealing with DOMS.