How to Say Goodbye to DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Written by Garett Reid

We’ve all been there. Perhaps we just started training, or we just had an amazing training session where we really pushed it. We feel great after the gym and go home, eat, shower and go to bed. The next morning we wake up and … OWWW! We can’t move our body. We feel like a gym meme. What is going on with our bodies? We felt great yesterday.

This phenomenon — which almost anyone who has stepped part in a gym has experienced — is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS for short. Depending on the severity, DOMS can be a hindrance to our training or every-day life activities. However, there are some practices that we can implement into our routine to eliminate or greatly diminish the effects of this monster. 

What Is DOMS?

DOMS is a type I muscle strain caused by micro-trauma to the muscles after excessive force is applied to the muscle. This excessive force results in pain and tenderness that generally manifests within 24 hours — most feel it when they try to get out of the bed the next morning. It usually lasts anywhere from 2-4 days with peak pain within 72 hours.

It is generally agreed that DOMS is caused when excessive mechanical force is placed on a muscle during training, specifically during eccentric muscle contraction. That initiates a chain reaction resulting in inflammation and swelling that in turn places pressure on nerve endings. The result? Pain. 

How Can You Prevent DOMS?

There have been some practices suggested to aid in recovery from DOMS, including cryotherapy, hyperbaric oxygen chamber use and electrical-current therapy. These practices are highly unpractical for most people to utilize and even can give contradictory results. Here are the easiest and most practical methods that have evidence showing their efficiency in treating DOMS.

Start Slowly When Starting to Train

Being that the DOMS is caused by excessive force, the easiest way to avoid DOMS is to go slowly when starting a new training program or implementing new movements.

Research generally agrees that DOMS occurs more frequently with new trainees or when a new movement is trained. In order to avoid or diminish DOMS, start slowly and allow your body to adapt to the new movement. There is no magic length of time in which you should practice moderation with your training, but five training sessions is a generally good starting point before increasing intensity

Fitness should be a life-long goal. Going as hard as you can every week is only going to burn you out. Take some time and learn a movement by lowering the intensity and focusing on form, which will strengthen your muscles and allow your muscles to adapt. Eventually you will need to raise the intensity and DOMS, while to a lesser degree, is still experienced in novice and advanced trainees. Here’s how to tackle that.

Add Protein and Antioxidants to Your Diet

Most of us probably know of the importance of protein when it comes to training and muscle growth. However, protein also plays an important part in recovery, including in preventing symptoms of DOMS. When antioxidants are added to protein supplementation following training, soreness is even further diminished. One study found effectiveness in combatting DOMS by consuming 31 grams of whey protein with 100 mg of berry antioxidants taken at three time intervals after training: 2 minutes after, 6 hours after and 22-24 hours after. The results show this is an effective and easy step you can take in alleviating DOMS.

Include Caffeine

Your daily cup of Joe has been found to not only help diminish pain and soreness from DOMS, but it can also reduce the number of days in which you feel discomfort.

One study found that consuming 5 mg/kg of caffeine before exercise, after exercise and then daily for four days experienced less discomfort for a shorter duration than those taking a placebo. Specifically, the individuals took caffeine in the form of caffeine anhydrous in capsule form one hour before exercise and then at the same time for the next 4 days. While they still had soreness on the second day, it was markedly lower than the placebo group. On the third day, the caffeine group’s pain had diminished completely while the placebo group still had discomfort.

A word of caution: Caffeine is a stimulant and can have cause side effects in some individuals, so speak to your doctor if you have any questions.

Should I Use Compression Wear?

With compression wear becoming an increasingly popular choice of athletic wear, we must ask ourselves, “Does compression actually do anything?” You will get different answers depending on who you ask about this sometimes-controversial topic.

Compression wear was originally utilized in the medical field to help individuals with circulatory disorders, in order to improve venous return and reduce tissue swelling. The athletic field took note of this effect and adopted compression wear as a means to aid in recovery. But, does it work? It depends on what study you look at. While some studies report no effect, there are also studies which do show positive results from DOMS. 

A study in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation showed that compression sleeves can not only reduce soreness and swelling after training, but they can also help with the return or lost-force production, another symptom of DOMS. There is also plenty of anecdotal evidence about positive use. Compression sleeves can increase time to exhaustion in aerobic or endurance training. They can also help when doing marathon/triathlon training and with squats and deadlifts.

When You’re Done Training, You’re Not Done

There is more to training than just lifting weights and running. Make sure you include a proper warm-up, cool down and specific dynamic flexibility exercises into your routine. By doing these activities on a regular basis, you will increase your muscle temperature as well as increase blood circulation to the muscles. Both of these are capable of reducing the effects of DOMS, according to a study in the Strength and Conditioning Journal. This increased blood flow to muscles can help aide recovery in muscles by delivering extra oxygen and nutrients to the damaged muscle. You may also want to incorporate light aerobic exercise after weight and endurance training, such as a 15-minute walk.

Now Let’s Train!

These are not magic secrets that will turn you into Superman. You still need to practice good rest, nutrition and progression in your training. But if you start to incorporate these practices, you may just find yourself missing that feel-good pain after your hard training.

About the author

Garett Reid

Garett Reid is an American who has been working in China for six years as a gym owner and coach in strength and conditioning as well as in endurance sports. He holds multiple certifications including NSCA CSCS, Ironman Coach and Crossfit Level 1 Trainer. He is currently working on a master’s degree in Human Performance and plans to graduate in 2019. His main area of interest is improving athletic performance through strength and conditioning that has been built on a scientific foundation. He likes to teach people how to be the strongest, fastest versions of themselves. He is an avid endurance racer in Asia and has completed a multitude of marathons, trails runs and Ironman 70.3.

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