If you have ever stepped inside a gym or undertaken a physically challenging activity, you know what we’re talking about. Waking up sore after a workout can be satisfying and painful at the same time. Muscle soreness tends to kick in from as soon as six to eight hours post-exercise, and peaks around the 48-hour mark, though there is an individual variation of this timeline.
While lower body soreness tends to be more inhibiting and memorable, the phenomenon certainly isn’t limited to the legs. It can occur anywhere in the body that has recently been exposed to unfamiliar or intense physical activity.
By understanding the reason behind these muscle aches and soreness you can take steps to reduce its intensity and prevent more serious cases. So let’s delve into why it happens, and how to train through it.
This muscle soreness is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This can happen a day or two after a strenuous workout. Some people believe they get sore a day after their workouts because of the build up of lactic acid.
This isn’t true. Lactic acid leaves the body way to quickly for you to be sore the next day. DOMS are caused by multiple slight tears to the muscle tissue, after which a variety of cells and substances migrate to these muscles to help them start healing.
While most exercise can induce some DOMS, exercise with a greater emphasis on the eccentric phase (the lengthening or stretching phase) plays the most significant role in the manifestation of DOMS.
It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, conditioned or unconditioned, male or female: DOMS doesn’t discriminate and you’re equally likely to get DOMS. DOMS can happen to an athlete irrespective of their stage; beginner, advanced or pro.
Good or Bad?
Some people use DOMS as the measure of how good their workouts were. This isn’t the correct way. You can’t use DOMS to determine how good your workouts were because of a few reasons. First, muscle soreness after workouts can be a contributing factor to muscle growth, but it’s not a necessary one.
Second, there is a point of diminishing returns, and extreme muscle soreness can be counterproductive. Severe soreness can significantly decrease force-producing capacity, which will be detrimental to performance in subsequent workouts.
Motivation levels can take a hit when you’re hindered by crippling muscle soreness. Neither of these will be beneficial for your long-term muscle building prospects. This soreness can also cause you to lose range of motion further reducing your ability to exhaust your working muscles.
As Schoenfeld and Contreras wrote: “So although DOMS may provide a general indication that some degree of damage to muscle tissue has occurred, it cannot be used as a definitive measure of the phenomenon.”
So hold back the next time you want to do some extra ‘finishing sets’ just so you can be sore the next day. DOMS can’t be used to judge the effectiveness of your workouts and neither can it be an indicator of muscle damage.