Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is a very common result of exercise. However, the purpose of this blog is to clarify how well muscle soreness is a good indicator of the quality of your workout and especially your program. Now I have heard plenty of times how much most people enjoy the feeling of being sore. Why? Well for most people it’s a sense of accomplishment because you worked out hard and you got sore from it. That’s really the general consensus on DOMS. If you didn’t get sore then you didn’t work out hard enough. Conversely, if you feel crippled the next day and have trouble sitting, walking and pretty much doing anything then you owned your workout. When we dig deeper into this there’s not many people that understand why they’re getting sore or more importantly how to recover from DOMS.
What is DOMS and why do our muscles get sore? One thing we know is DOMS occurs primarily in response to unfamiliar or vigorous physical activity. When you work out extremely hard, which I find most people try to do, you will no doubt experience DOMS every time. When you do something unfamiliar, or activity your body isn’t used to, you will also experience DOMS every time depending on the intensity. Well why is that? According to research DOMS is a result of inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the connective tissue. Research has shown that biochemical changes occur as a result of structural disruption of the extracellular matrix (ECM) in connective tissue. This disruption of the ECM causes an inflammatory response. Experiencing DOMS becomes evident at about 6-8 hours after completion of intense activity and it reaches its peak at about 48 hours after exercise. However, this is just a general rule. Many people experience DOMS in various degrees depending on their exercise intensity, genetics, training status and probably most importantly their concentrated effort to prioritize recovery of the musculature.
This is where I believe most people drop the ball. Is muscle soreness a good indicator of the quality of one’s workout? I would say yes and no. I am confident in saying that muscle soreness is a great indicator that you caused enough cellular damage in the musculature to promote muscle growth (damaging and breaking cells down allows your body to build them back up even better). However, it is not a great indicator of a quality workout. There must be a purpose to every workout you do and some workouts need to take the focus off demolishing the body and redirected at allowing the body to recover. You can run the stairs every day for an hour and believe me you will get beat up every time. This, however, does not show a quality workout because you don’t allow the cell structure to recover and do its due diligence in repairing and rebuilding the cell structure. If you’re a high school athlete or an adult and your focus or your coaches focus is on dishing out intense workout after intense workout you won’t be getting what you expected (stronger, faster, leaner, more durable). You’re body cannot perform under constant physical duress and this sort of strategy does not prioritize recovery.
I’ve heard people say, “My daughter is getting worked really hard over there. She’s coming home so sore she has trouble walking. That means she did something.” Remember the word quality. That statement doesn’t indicate a quality workout was experienced. The goal is always to get better and improve but don’t mistake muscle soreness with always improving because it’s not the case. The best measure of improvement is quality of the program and the results you get by measuring your performance. You will not get better if you are experiencing soreness all the time especially if you’re going into workouts already sore. Recovery is the key component and it doesn’t always just consist of proper nutrition, adequate sleep and effective stretching. It also requires a sensible workout program that builds recovery days into the training scheme.
Yours in Strength,