Muscle soreness is not a sign of a good workout.

“My legs hurt so much i can barely get up and down the stairs, must be doing me some good”

“My Abs hurt to cough, what a great workout”

These are a couple of common phrases associated with muscle soreness.

In fitness circles this is also known as DOMS. This stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. It is the feeling we may get 24-48 hours after we have exercised.

So lets delve a little deeper into what it is, why it occurs,why its not necessarily a sign of a good workout and why it could be a bad thing for your training..

DOMS can be a familiar experience for us all, symptoms can include mild muscle tenderness to severe debilitating pain.

DOMS is most prevalent in individuals who return to exercise after a period of time off and also common when we are first introduced to new activities. 

Sound familiar?

Exercise that requires a lot of Eccentric type loading (slow muscle lengthening) causes more Muscle damage and therefore more soreness.

(Think lots of slow squats, negative pull-ups etc).

Intensity and duration of exercise is also a big factor of DOMS.

Done something you’ve never done before? You may well feel it the day after.

Completed more reps or a greater distance than you ever have before? – you may feel that too!

Worked harder than you usually do? – Yep DOMS.

In technical Jargon

 Up to six hypothesised theories have been proposed for the mechanism of DOMS, namely: lactic acid, muscle spasm, connective tissue damage, muscle damage, inflammation and the enzyme efflux theories. However, an integration of two or more theories is likely to explain muscle soreness.” – Cheung 2003

Although we associate DOMS with being a sign of a good workout the truth is it isn’t.

We could’ve done something for the first time. 

Not trained in a while.

Increased duration and or intensity of our exercise by quite abit more than normal.

Or simply done some more eccentric loading within our training. 

The truth is DOMS isn’t a sign of a well structured, individualised and progressive training program but just a by product of training – sometimes we get sore, sometimes we may not get as sore. 

A wise man once said – “Any trainer can make a client sore, but can they provide a training program thats progressive and provides long term results while keeping the client engaged and invested in the process?”

DOMS can actually also be a bad thing – “Alterations in muscle sequencing and recruitment patterns may also occur, causing unaccustomed stress to be placed on muscle ligaments and tendons increasing risk of injury. –  Cheung 2003

We specialise in resistance based training which can notoriously lead to DOMS, especially in beginners if volume isn’t managed appropriately. 

Believe us we hear stories of people with previous experiences with trainers. We ourselves were new to the industry once and I’ll fully admit my failings when i was a fresh faced PT straight from school with no experience working with general population clients. Some i am surprised kept coming back with the crazy workouts i made them do!

Fortunately we have learnt a thing or two!

From our experience of working with individuals DOMS can be quite unpleasant and largely unavoidable with the right approach to training. DOMS can be off-putting to new starters if too severe. 

The last thing we want to do to a new client who has been plucking up the courage to take those first steps into fitness with us is leave them unable to get off the toilet. What a way to knock their confidence and what a first impression… 

We can make great progress, get stronger, build muscle and lose weight without the need of being particularly sore. Don’t get us wrong, some clients love to be a little sore, they do see it as a sign of working hard or like feeling certain muscles, but theres a definite line. 

So please please please don’t misinterpret what DOMS is or see it as a marker of a god workout. Any Tom Dick or Harry can put someone through a circuit and leave them sore. 

But are they teaching great technique, prescribing approbate exercises to strengthen potential weak areas, prescribing appropriate sets and reps and training in a way thats aligned to your goals?

These are the real questions we should be asking from a training program.

So to conclude 

  • DOMS isn’t the sign of a good workout, merely a by product.
  • progress (in whatever form you track) is a better gauge 
  • It can increase risk of injury
  • ITs freaking horrible going about daily life struggling up and down stairs so why anyone would want to feel like that i don’t know\
  • However a little DOMS is actually quite satisfying?

Happy training!

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