Ahh, that “I worked out so frickin’ hard my muscles are screaming” post-workout feeling… It’s called “D.O.M.S.” and it’s a love-hate relationship.
So, just what the heck is D.O.M.S.? And, is it a necessary evil to build muscle?
D.O.M.S. stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, which is basically that achy muscle feeling you get after a typically heavy workout, 24-48 hours post-training. The soreness usually subsides within 4 to 10 days after onset, depending on how severe the “damage” is.
What it actually is and whether it’s necessary has been at the centre of debate among those in “the know” since the term was first coined.
It’s argued that D.O.M.S. is either caused by a build up of lactic acid, or a breakdown or inflammation of muscle tissue.
The Lactic Acid Debate
Lactic acid is a by-product of burning muscle glucose during intense physical exercise. Most of that lactic acid is removed from the muscles, or recycled, within an hour after exercise. Scientists initially believed that lactic acid caused pain in the muscle, which associated D.O.M.S. and lactic acid. That is until it was discovered that lactic acid build-up is actually lack of oxygen to the muscles, which leads to fatigue, not pain.
It’s important to remember that muscle fatigue and D.O.M.S. are two different, unrelated processes.
Therefore, D.O.M.S. is caused by muscle breakdown.
Studies have shown that the vast majority of the pain associated with D.O.M.S. is caused during the eccentric movement of an exercise, for example, when you lower a weight (such as during a squat or a bicep curl.)
Before you freak out, D.O.M.S. doesn’t result in any long-term damage to the muscle. If it did, how would pro athletes progress in their abilities? How would you be able to progressively lift heavier? But, don’t mistake muscle breakdown for a muscle, tendon, or ligament tear. You’ll certainly know the difference – pain from tears are immediate and acute, not delayed.
D.O.M.S. is believed to be the result of the splaying of muscle fibres next to each other, not a tearing of individual fibres. When the muscle begins to repair itself, the added strength is probably the stimulation of added motor neurons to the area.
Take advantage of D.O.M.S.
As a general rule, you should rest each bodypart 3-4 days before training it again. This takes advantage of the added motor neurons AND gives each muscle time to recover effectively. However, you should train each bodypart at least every 7-8 days to avoid the recruited motor neurons from regressing back into an untrained state. It’s a fine balance where consistency and a good training program come into effect.
Of course, if you have a severe case of D.O.M.S., don’t try to over work the muscle. There are ways to assist the recovery of muscle breakdown and associated D.O.M.S.
Getting “Over It”
Nutrition obviously goes hand in hand with muscle hypertrophy. There are also physio therapies available that may help you recover quicker and get you back into the gym.
- Vitamin C – this wonder vitamin not only staves off colds in the winter, it also plays a key role in the repair and growth of connective tissue, including the tissue that binds muscle fibres together. Vitamin C, taken after a challenging workout, has been shown to reduce the effect of free radicals in the body, which ultimately reduces the severity of D.O.M.S. Vitamin E is also an effective anti-oxidant. As with anything though, Vitamin C in high doses can be harmful.
- BCAA – branch chain amino acids not only reduce the amount of damage on the muscle, they also stimulate the synthesis of new muscle protein, leading to bigger and stronger muscles. Most effective within 1 hour of heavy training.
- Massage – massage has show to significantly speed the recovery from D.O.M.S., reducing the pain associated with it, and perhaps even the swelling. However, Ice baths/packs, ultrasound and other homeopathic remedies have demonstrated no effect in clinical trials.
- Get back in there – getting back into the gym and warming up those sore muscles with light stretching or yoga has been shown to reduce the pain associated with D.O.M.S. Remember; rest is the best medicine for recovery. Hard training while still sore from D.O.M.S. is counterproductive and leads to overtraining, reduced size and strength – and worse, injury.
Mild D.O.M.S. is generally a good gauge as to how well you are training, and should subside within 3-5 days. Don’t train a muscle group that is affected by D.O.M.S. until it has fully recovered from your last workout.
Train hard, eat right and rest. There is no magic pill for fat loss and muscle growth.