Grenade athlete performing a squat

Ever hit it hard at the gym and then woken up barely able to move? That, my friend, is DOMS, otherwise known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. That dull ache after a particularly sweaty chest sesh. The awkward shuffle you make when your quads just aren’t willing to cooperate following that squat rack PB. But, have you ever wondered what DOMS actually means and why we get it?

Grenade® athlete and osteopath Adam Whatley has done some digging to reveal why we suffer from DOMS and how it can be relieved.

“You may have heard the word DOMS used many of times before in and around the exercise environment, but have you ever wondering what it means?

Well, allow me to explain...DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and is commonly associated with post-exercise muscular soreness. It commonly occurs following increased excessive and unaccustomed exercise, so exercise you are not used to. DOMS is associated with fatigue and a build-up of lactic acid, along with metabolic waste build up as a result of the by-product of glycogen usage. DOMS is also thought to be associated with eccentric exercise related movements (being under tension whilst lengthening) eg. downhill running.

What causes DOMS?

DOMS is related to exercise-induced micro-trauma, which causes tears and the local inflammatory response to tiny muscle fibres called myofibril tears. This mechanical micro-trauma however is different from muscle strain.

What are the symptoms of DOMS?

DOMS symptoms usually include a deep, dull muscle ache and soreness that develops the following day after strenuous exercise. It is commonly localised to the muscles that you have been using with the exercise and results in muscle stiffness and tenderness. Muscle flexibility will be restricted and stretching will also bring on symptoms. DOMS can also result in temporarily reduced strength and joint mobility. However, symptoms will begin to reduce as you start moving, as this will encourage blood blow and allow for flexibility.

DOMS can also result in a short-term loss of muscle strength, a reduced joint range of motion and possible swelling of the affected muscle groups. The good news is that once you start moving your sore muscles, they will actually start to feel less sore. But you will find walking downstairs troublesome if it’s your quads that are suffering!

Usually DOMS will be mild discomfort and only last for a day or two. In more severe cases, it is important to differentiate between a muscle tear or strain. In the event of more severe DOMS, here are some treatment pointers:

- Perform some gentle mobility exercises
- Gentle massage – this will promote gradual flexibility and increase blood flow, however, deep tissue massage should be avoided during the first 24 hours
- Avoid aggressive stretching or exercise during this process – your muscles will have a reduced ability to cope with increased functional demand and you could risk further damage or injury
- Cycling, swimming or gentle flexibility exercises can ease the symptoms of DOMS

What are the benefits of crossfit?

What’s the difference between DOMS and muscle injury?

In most cases, when you suffer an injury like a muscle is strain or tear, there will be sharp pain felt immediately and reduced function of that muscle will be evident. In more severe cases, you may see swelling and bruising, however this may not be visible until the following day. With an injury, there will be local tenderness at the site of the injury. Also, muscle strains will often take much longer to heal.

Are DOMS good?

So, the question remains - do we need DOMS in order to support our sporting performance and progress? It goes without saying that the feeling of mild muscular soreness is a nice feeling, a feeling that makes us feel like we’ve achieved something and is psychologically rewarding. This being said, we don’t necessarily need DOMS to progress, in fact, sometimes it can be counter-productive and detrimental to performance.

With any form of exercise, we are putting our body under a stimulus that it is not used to. It is the stimulus that leads to adaptive progression. You apply an exercise stimulus, this leads to muscle breakdown temporarily (catabolic changes), then, to deal with this, the body stimulus builds back stronger (adaptive anabolic progression), with the correct nutrition. DOMS, in most cases, is a form the body being put under a stimulus it is not used to. Managing good flexibility and stretches throughout your training, along with good nutritional support, will inevitably reduce the risk of serve DOMS."

How can you prevent DOMS?

- Build up your exercise gradually, do not go too hard too soon
- Make sure you’re properly warmed up before exercise
- Perform a mix of exercises, rather than consistently focusing on one area
- Finish your work out by stretching and cooling down

workout motivation

In need of more training tips? Head over to Adam’s Instagram for more advice on how you can support your training and recovery. You can also find a whole load of workout tips and inspo over on our blog – check out these 4 essential fat burning exercises that can be done anywhere, so NO excuses!