One of the negative effects of weight training and general exercise is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). That is the muscle pain that kicks in a day or two after an intense training session and can hang around for up to 5 days post exercise.
At its mildest, DOMS can be slight discomfort when moving. At its worst, it can limit ability to move freely, such is the pain and stiffness it creates. It’s not a serious issue and does go away, but during the time you have DOMS your muscle function can be impaired.
In this article we’re going to look at DOMS, how it’s caused and how we can minimise the muscle damage and effects from weight training and general exercise. All recommendations in this article are evidence-based.
What is DOMS?
There are a number of theories put forward for DOMS, but the generally accepted ones are muscle damage and neural (nerve) inflammation .
The muscle damage created by exercise causes microtears in the muscles, nerves and connective tissues, which are then repaired bigger and stronger. This is how resistance training works – it stresses tissues, forcing them to adapt to cope with the new demands. The stress and subsequent repair of tissues however is when DOMS can occur.
Anecdotally we notice that DOMS are most prevalent after a period of relative inactivity. There’s also evidence to suggest eccentric loading (contraction of muscles whilst lengthening) creates more muscle damage, therefore more DOMS.
Change in stimulus known to be an issue
A known factor in DOMS is a change in the exercise you do. For example, you may be a regular runner, but if you weight train having not done any for a long time, you’re likely to develop DOMS.
If you’re a cyclist and head out for a run, the same thing will occur. It’s not a measure of fitness (or lack thereof), it’s down to the change in stimulus.
This means you need to introduce change slowly to your training regimen. This can look like a number of things – start gently after a period of inactivity, building load and volume of resistance training after a break. It can also be you introduce new exercises one at a time, allowing your body to adapt more easily. Throwing a range of new exercises into a programme at once is likely to cause big problems.
Minimise eccentric loading
Eccentric loading is when the muscle produces force as it lengthens – think of the lowering section of a bench press, when the bar is lowered under control towards the chest. A stiff legged deadlift and a kettlebell swing are other examples of eccentric contractions.
With a programme that contains a lot of eccentric contractions, research shows you’re more likely to develop DOMS , so save them until you’re further into your training programme and they won’t be such a shock to the system. Eccentrics are very important, so don’t neglect them but do follow best practice – start light and with reduced volume, build it up when appropriate.
Fuel adequately to prevent post workout DOMS
There is a suggestion that pre-workout protein can help with a reduction of DOMS . A subject group of runners were split, some fed additional protein from a couple of different sources and others were simply rehydrated. The runners who ingested the protein reported a statistically significant reduction in DOMS post workout.
This aligns with previous work in the area, suggesting that one of the effective ways to minimise DOMS is with adequate protein consumption to help tissue repair.
Wear infrared clothing
One of the most powerful assets against the effects of DOMS is infrared clothing, with evidence showing it to be very effective in helping athletes recover quickly . The added incentive is the fact that it’s a passive form of recovery, all you need to do is wear it. There’s no additional effort required and no need to bring in a therapist such as a masseuse.
The infrared fabrics stimulate the increase in circulation to the tissues and speed the removal of exercise-induced waste products. This both speeds the rate of recovery and makes it more substantial – the additional blood flow benefits the connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons as well.
Minimising muscle damage from weight training and exercise – final thoughts
Using this evidence explained in this article, you can minimise your likelihood of picking up DOMS by adopting the following practices…
- Start slowly – give your body time to adapt
- Introduce new exercises gently and only when you’ve been training for a while
- Minimise eccentric loading at first and only gradually add it in
- Ensure you consume enough protein per and post workout
- Wear infrared clothing before, during and after training
This a condensed version of best practice, all from evidence-based information sources. Regardless of your ability levels, following these steps will ensure you reduce the impact DOMS has on your training.
You’ll never avoid it completely, but you can certainly reduce its impact on you.