Login | January 22, 2019

Delayed onset muscle soreness

Pete’s World

Published: September 17, 2018

Ever gotten into a workout and thought to yourself, “Wow, I think I’m really going to feel this tomorrow?” Then tomorrow arrives, you roll out of bed, and whoa Nelly, you’re sore all right. Every once in a while that delayed pain and stiffness is so intense you can barely move those exercised body parts.

Well, such a condition is quite common, and it displays in varying degrees of painfulness, from mild discomfort to paralytic soreness. It’s called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

In the August 1998 edition of the Strength and Conditioning Journal, authors Jenny K. Dierking ATC and Michael G. Bemben PhD, describe such pain phenomenons this way: “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) results from overload or strenuous exercise that goes beyond the intensity or duration for which the muscle is accustomed to performing. It is accompanied with the sensation of pain tenderness, deep ache, and stiffness in muscles…

“The severity of DOMS ranges from mild discomfort and stiffness that usually disappears rapidly with routine daily activities, to severe debilitating pain that limits normal use of muscles and movement…”

Now at this point I’m going to cut through all the chaff, the dogma and the misconceptions to tell you as emphatically as possible that DOMS is not due to the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles. I’ve lost count of the gazillions of times I’ve heard this absurd thesis espoused in gyms. And to be even more precise, lactic acid’s not even an infinitesimal component of this whole DOMS phenomenon.

The honest truth about DOMS is that its cause still can’t be precisely explained.

Some exercise physiologists believe DOMS starts with microscopic damage to individual muscle fibers during exercise, and that the delayed soreness appears to be a side effect of the repair process. Others believe DOMS might be a mild form of rhabdomyolysis, a condition that involves the breakdown of skeletal muscle and the subsequent releasing of muscle enzymes and electrolytes from inside of muscle cells out into the bloodstream.

Then again, there’s a consensus who think some kind of metabolic stress could be the cause. And finally there are those who argue that DOMS has a neurological foundation. Despite all this uncertainty and all these hypotheses, exercise scientists all agree on one clear fact: DOMS is a specific type of muscle soreness that only appears hours after exercise.

These same specialists also agree that the strongest trigger for DOMS is too many eccentric contractions, contractions that increase tension on a muscle as it lengthens. And there are many activities that involve this eccentric component, activities like downhill running, jogging and walking, step aerobics, plyometrics (exercises involving repeated rapid stretching and contracting of muscles), and most all resistance exercises.

So with all that being said, just how can you prevent it? The single best way to prevent DOMS is to gradually build up the volume, intensity and frequency of your workout program.

Second, be cognizant of the amount of eccentric contractions that are involved in the activities you’re doing. Realize that long bouts of downhill walking, jogging and running places the leg muscles in a braking situation that involves many, many muscle lengthening contractions.

Understand that when lowering a dumbbell during a biceps curl, when lowering the barbell during a bench press, when lowering yourself during a squat, and when lowering darned near anything in any resistance exercise, some muscles will experience lengthening under tension - an eccentric contraction.

And third, know that the slower you lower the resistance, the more concentrated is the eccentric contraction. In gym vernacular such slow lowering is termed “negative training,” and a little bit of that goes a long, long way.

As you can see, the central theme here is the concept of muscular adaptation, giving muscles time to adjust to the stresses placed upon them. If that adaptation process is shortcutted, well, you could very well be on the fast track to DOMS.

Finally, if you do end up with DOMS there are several ways to deal with it. Let the muscles heal by waiting at least a week before performing that same exercise routine again, and in the meantime, try some light massage and/or light aerobic exercise and stretching. Such a strategy improves blood flow, warms the muscles, and increases range of motion.

Don’t want to wake up on that DOMS side of the bed? Then workout within your limits…and use your head.