Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Why It Happens And How To Deal With It

Eccentric movements like extending your arms in a barbell curl, are considered the main cause of delayed onset muscle soreness
We all had those times, being so sore after a hard leg workout that we could only walk like a duck for a while. Today, let’s look a bit deeper into why the pain and stiffness only appears hours after our training, and why delayed onset muscle soreness happens.

What is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)?

Acute muscle soreness (AMS), which starts during or shortly after the training and disappears latest after 24 hours. It’s the burn you feel in your muscles during a strenuous workout. The causes are mostly muscle fatigue and the build-up of metabolic by-products.

With delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) on the other hand, you will have a bit more “fun”.  It sets in hours to days after exercising and usually stays 24 – 72 hours. The mechanism behind DOMS is not completely understood, but it seems like the cause are microscopic tears in your muscle fibres. These micro-injuries happen mostly during eccentric exercise, where the muscle is put under tension in its lengthened position. Good examples for eccentric movements are when you extend your arm in a Biceps Curl or in Calf Raises, when you move downwards and lengthen your calf. (If you have met our workout POLARIS, you will know the feeling of DOMS especially well.)

After these microscopic tears happen to your muscle fibres, your body reacts with increasing inflammation. This makes your muscles ache when used, feel stiff, tight, and tired.

Is soreness the sign of a "good" workout?

You get sore easier when you are doing movements your body is not used to. When your body has already adapted to this sort of training, your muscles will not hurt after, but you will still have the full benefit of the workout. So, the answer is clearly “no”.

How can I prevent delayed onset muscle soreness?

When you change your training routine, and try out new movements, start slowly to help your body get used to the movements. Other than that, there seems to be no proven way to actually avoid DOMS, the data is not clear and more studies are needed.

What can I do when I experience DOMS?

First of all, listen to your body. Do not go hard on the same muscles again, and if you feel really bad, take a break. But in most cases, movement like hiking or an easy run or bike ride can help you feel better. 

If you want to speed up the process a bit, it seems like anything that increases the blood flow in your muscles can help. Massages, going to the sauna, or a hot bath can help somewhat.

You might have heard about using cold, like an ice bath, to ease DOMS, but there were contradictory studies (here & here).

If you want to learn more about how to make the most of your workouts, check our other blog articles.

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