As dawn breaks and your alarm clock kicks off, you go to get up and realise that your body is as stiff as a board and your muscles are real sore. You suddenly feel like you’ve aged 20+ years overnight and struggle to get out of bed… but before you call the hospital, you remember that total body conditioning class or that intense ashtanga session from the other day. Ouch. Welcome to DOMS.
You might not know what DOMS is, so we’ll try not to get super technical about it… but it’s all to do with your muscles and what’s done to them during a workout. DOMS doesn’t necessarily have to be a result of a super-intense and sweaty workout, as it can affect anyone that takes on a new workout that challenges their muscles. From gym novices to workout qweens, it can happen to you... but why is this happening and what can you do about it?
Read on to find out why your muscles can begin screaming with pain days after strenuous exercise, whether you should workout through the pain and why it shouldn’t stop you….
What is DOMS?
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) usually descends between 24 to 72 hours following workouts or exercises that are new to your body. The intense soreness and stiffness can be a result of a hard HIIT session or the first few workouts to a complete beginner. It really depends on your level of fitness.
There is a possibility that the pain you feel could be a result of incorrectly doing a certain exercise, but DOMS usually means you’ve trained harder than usual and your muscles have been worked more than usual. During workouts and resistance training, micro-tears occur in your muscles. Don’t gag - it’s really not as gruesome as it sounds! As the muscles heal from the tears, they become stronger and firmer.
But don’t gauge how well you exercised by your level of DOMS - we’re all different and it can come down to many different variables as to why one person hurts more than the other. Lack of correct warm ups and cool downs could be a factor… it could even be down to genetics.
Why do DOMS hit 1-2 days after the workout?
You smash your workout, go home feeling exhilarated and pumped with endorphins… and then the DOMS strike a good 1 - 2 days later. It’s strange how the body has a delayed reaction to the exertion, but certain chemicals create a chain reaction from the muscle damage. The reaction is complex and takes its time to fully develop to the full-blown soreness… hence the ‘delayed’ part.
Don’t worry it won’t last long, you’ll soon be feeling fighting fit and the pain will be a distant memory.
Should you workout when you have DOMS?
DOMS rarely lasts more than a week, at a stretch 10 days. The first few days might be painful and keep you from being at your regular level of fitness (ever tried to do mountain climbers when suffering from DOMS? Ouch.), but you can get back on track pretty quickly. You don’t need to rest up for a week to recover! It may feel uncomfortable, and yes you may need to take a day or two off if it’s really sore, but you shouldn’t be doing any further damage.
Steer clear of high intensity activities at first and reduce to a moderate level of exercise to give your body time to recover and increase strength. Active recovery is recommended - swimming, yoga, stretching. Keep moving.
DOMS is likely to appear after changes to exercise regimes: increasing resistance and increasing volume of exercise are the main culprits, but keep at that same intensity and your base level of fitness will increase. DOMS will slowly become less of a feature as you keep on kicking those goals. But as you keep smashing your fitness goals, remember to challenge yourself and keep increasing those goals!
If the pain is intense and lasts beyond 10 days, seek medical advice as it may be more than just DOMS.
How to ease the pain of DOMS
Unfortunately, there’s no magic cure. But there are some things you can do to try and help the muscle regrowth. Compression clothing whilst working out, post-workout ice baths and active recovery are all recommended… not to mention your diet could have an impact too.
Eat plenty of protein and magnesium rich foods, like spinach (Popeye knew his stuff), almonds, brown rice and broccoli. And don’t forget to keep on top of your vitamin E and C - don’t neglect your veggies!
So there you have it! DOMS might be a pain in the ass, but it shouldn’t stop you from continuing on your fitness journey. The path of fitness can be bumpy and uncomfortable at times, but it leads to great things.