Muscle Soreness: Harmful or Helpful?

DOMS 3 (1)

It is the first time you’ve decided to hit the gym in months and you do way more than you initially wanted to because you are likely trying to make up for the lost time being inactive. You leave feeling great with all those endorphins pumping through your body. You built up a nice sweat and think to yourself that you are back on track.
Fast forward 48 hours and you find yourself struggling to lift your arms and gingerly squatting to sit down on the couch. All of a sudden you think that you must have hurt yourself, or that what you are feeling is not normal given what you did at the gym.  You are likely experiencing what exercise professionals would call delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS for short.

What causes DOMS?

Scientific evidence is still inconclusive on why or how it happens. For many years, scientists have thought DOMS to be a result of micro-trauma to the muscles and the healing process that ensued.
Many today believe that the cause is no longer a result of the aforementioned micro-trauma, rather a result of metabolic stress to the muscles that result in proteins “spilling” out, causing a chain reaction. Although it can be alarming, this is a normal phenomenon, and there are ways to alleviate those intense symptoms.

How do I avoid DOMS?

Unfortunately, there is no way to truly avoid DOMS if you routinely test the limits of what your body can do. If you have not trained a specific activity for any length of time and then wanted to resume it without proper training, you are likely to experience some form of muscle soreness.
The advice that I give most of my patients about resuming any physical activity is to start slow. If you think you can lift 100lbs, cut that in half and see how you feel.  If you haven’t run in 3 months, do not go out and run a 10k without knowing your body may hate you for a few days. Have a plan and execute it for a week and see how you feel. Slowly add resistance, weight or distance to your given activity for two weeks and then readjust accordingly.

Final thoughts:

While we may not know what causes DOMS or if there really is anything that will help eliminate it, there is no reason to be scared by soreness after a workout. The best advice I can give you is to keep active. Your legs are sore, try an upper body workout and go back to your legs the next day.  Taking too much time off can actually hinder your progress and just start the process all over again.