Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Posted: December 18, 2010 in Training

You just got back from the gym and you feel great! During today’s workout you were able to push yourself a little harder than normal and you are feeling totally pumped, looking forward to that next training session. Later that night your muscles feel fatigued and tired and you know you are going to get a good night’s sleep. When you wake, you feel as though you have magically aged twenty years and your muscles and body ache like mad! Joints and muscles are stiff and the last thing you want to do is return back to the gym for more. The next day, you wake up in worse shape than the day before and simple tasks such as walking up stairs, brushing your hair, or getting up from your seat seem like parts of a triathlon event. What’s going on with your body? You felt great leaving the gym after your workout, did you catch some disease in the locker room that is eating away at your body, or even worse, are little men sneaking into your room at night and beating you with a baseball bat? Before you start to panic, relax, more than likely you are suffering the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).


Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) describes a phenomenon of muscle pain, muscle soreness or muscle stiffness that is felt 12-48 hours after exercise, particularly at the beginning of a new an exercise program, after a change in sports activities, or after a dramatic increase in the duration or intensity of exercise.


This muscle pain is a normal response to unusual exertion and is part of an adaptation process that leads to greater fitness improvements. Have a look at the picture below to understand the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) better.

However, appropriate stimuli (training intensity) is essential to optimal gains from training. How? Have a look below!

This soreness we feel would be during the compensation (recovery) phase we recover from the previous workout. This sort of muscle pain is not quite the same as the muscle pain or fatigue you experience during exercise. This delayed pain is also very different than the acute, sudden pain of and injury such as muscle strains and sprains, which is marked by an abrupt, specific and sudden pain that occurs during activity and often causes swelling or bruising.


Causes of DOMS:

Delayed onset muscle soreness is thought to be a result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. The amount of tearing (and soreness) depends on how hard and how long you exercise and what type of exercise you do. Any movement you aren’t used to can lead to DOMS, but eccentric muscle contractions (movements that cause muscle to forcefully contract while it lengthens) seem to cause the most soreness.

Examples of eccentric muscle contractions include going down stairs, running downhill and the lowering process of weights In addition to small muscle tears there can be associated swelling in a muscle which may contribute to soreness.


I don’t like the DOMS, how do I treat/prevent it?

There is no one simple way to treat delayed onset muscle soreness. In fact, there has been an ongoing debate about both the cause and treatment of DOMS. In the past, gentle stretching was one of the recommended ways to reduce exercise related muscle soreness, but a study by Australian researchers published in 2007 found that stretching is not effective in avoiding muscle soreness.

So does anything work to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness? Nothing is proven 100 percent effective, but some people have found the following advice helpful, but it’s best for an individual to try a few things to see what works for them.

  • Use Active Recovery. This strategy does have support in the research. Performing easy low-impact aerobic exercise increasing blood flow and is linked with diminished muscle soreness. After an intense workout or competition, use this technique as a part of your cool down.
  • Rest and Recover. If you simply wait it out and have enough rest, soreness will go away in 3 to 7 days with no special treatment.
  • Proper Nutrition. Having increased protein intake can help in the process of recovery.
  • Try a Sports Massage. Some research has found that sports massage may help reduce reported muscle soreness and reduce swelling, although it had no effects on muscle function.
  • Try an Ice Bath or Contrast Water Bath. Although no clear evidence proves they are effective, many pro athletes use them and claim they work to reduce soreness.
  • Perform Gentle Stretching. Although research doesn’t find stretching alone reduces muscle pain of soreness, many people find it simply feels good.
  • Warm Up completely before your next exercise session. There is some research that supports that a warm-up performed immediately prior to unaccustomed eccentric exercise produces small reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness (but cool-down performed after exercise does not).
  • Progress Slowly. The most important prevention method is to gradually increase your exercise time and intensity. See the 10 percent rule if you need some exercise progression guidelines.
  • Follow the Ten Percent Rule. When beginning a new activity start gradually and build up your time and intensity no more than ten percent per week.
  • Hire a Personal Trainer if you aren’t sure how to start a workout program that is safe and effective.


Some people like the feeling of muscle soreness but some don’t. But most don’t understand why they have the soreness. Hope this post builds your understanding of that previously described my-muscles-are-sore-but-I-don’t-know-why feeling. Which of these recovery methods have you used to alleviate the symptoms of DOMS and which ones work best? Share it with us below!


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