I recently heard someone say “my workout was so good that I have DOMS.” Here are a few things that you should know about delayed onset muscle soreness and why muscle pain is not necessarily the sign of a good workout.
DOMS occurs 1-2 days after exercise and typically lasts 3-5 days. It can be mild or it can be really bad and painful.
In my experience it occurs because of two different things:
1. When someone hasn’t worked out for a long time and/or
2. When someone trains with WAY too much volume and/or intensity. Let’s say you are excited to go back to the gym after lockdown and do a hardcore leg day using all the equipment you haven’t had access to for a long time. A 1.5-2 hour workout (WAY too much) warming up on the bicycle for 30 minutes, a hundred reps of walking lunges, barbell squats, leg extensions and leg curls, finishing up with box jumps and a power walk home… Yeah, something like this will make you sore.
What happens next?
If the soreness is intense you won’t be able to do any exercise for a week or so. You’ll miss planned gym sessions which means you start to work out less frequently. When you go back to the gym, even if you exercise more sensibly, you might get DOMS again because your body is undertrained.
So you don’t get muscle soreness because your workout was effective but because your body didn’t have a chance to adapt to the work load. If you train frequently and build up volume and intensity gradually you should experience less soreness over time so that is not a bad thing and not a sign of ineffective training. It means you’re getting stronger and your muscles are adapting to new types of movement.
Here are a few rules to follow to avoid bad DOMS: train frequently, rest enough between workouts (this might be active rest or lighter exercise), support your workout with your diet (pay attention to your protein intake), stay hydrated and make sure you get enough sleep.