Have you ever woken up, a day after a big running event, or even just a big gym session and felt stiff? This is most likely due to Muscle soreness, or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), often presents a day or two after exercising. Adam Saris, Australian Institute of Fitness Lead Coach in Victoria, discusses whether it’s a good or bad thing.
Muscle soreness is that distinctive aching, stiffness and tenderness that most of us experience after an unfamiliar workout.
It’s caused by eccentric exercise (controlled elongation), somewhat through isometric exercise (static) and not at all with concentric contractions (active shortening).
What does this mean? Let’s compare running and cycling.
When I run, my foot strikes the ground. My lower body joints need to absorb 6-10 times my bodyweight before propelling me forward again. My leg muscles eccentrically load up each step I take which is why you may feel DOMS in your thighs, calves and bottom days later.
During a cycle my legs are only ever contracting concentrically as I push the pedals, never absorbing my body weight, which is why you will never get DOMS days later after a cycle.
To our knowledge DOMS is a combination of unaccustomed muscle contraction (especially lengthening of the muscle under load) and poor motor neuron recruitment. In untrained individuals (or athletes who have taken a layoff from training), these two factors are prevalent and they usually experience the most severe cases of DOMS, even if the exercise is relatively mild in intensity.
Experienced trainers that don’t vary their training stimulus regularly are likely to develop excellent motor neuron recruitment and become extremely accustomed to the specific stress applied. Many experienced runners no longer experience DOMS even after vigorous training sessions.
Beginners experiencing DOMS should be wary, understanding that the intensity and duration of the DOMS usually reflects the stress you applied to your body. If too much stress is applied to an untrained body there is only one outcome injury.
When you start out you will get DOMS no doubt, however two or three days later you should feel energetic, pain free and ready to train again. If you are still nursing soreness then you might want to reduce your training load.
Experienced trainers need to understand that they will not necessarily get DOMS and that’s ok it isn’t the end of the world! If you train on a regular basis, sticking to the same training style, resistance, tempo and movement patterns, your body will adapt and you won’t get DOMS.
Changing the training stimulus every 4-6 weeks though is very important, otherwise your body gets used to the training and you can reach a plateau in performance.
When you are training, remember to listen to your body, if it is feeling stiff, tight, sore or just tired, have a rest. The last thing you want to do is aggravate your muscles more and cause an injury.
For more information on the many ways to change your training stimulus without changing your goal, see a fitness professional at your local gym or consider training with a Personal Trainer who specialises in training clients with your performance goal.