Aching Muscles after exercise? DOMS explained.
This is a question I get quite a bit from Clients when I start working with them and particularly after the first few sessions. Why do my muscles feel sore a day or two after our sessions? Does this improve over time? What can I do about it?
This aching feeling is called DOMS which stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. It doesn’t necessarily affect everyone and it doesn’t necessarily happen after every workout, but when it does happen it can be a bit disconcerting and off-putting at first. You haven’t hurt yourself and the discomfort will pass, its actually your muscles growing.
When muscles are fatigued from exercise the reality is that it has caused microscopic damage to the fibres. The soreness is your muscle fibres repairing themselves. This process causes them to strengthen and adapt to be able to handle more exercise and to achieve greater stamina and strength. It can start from about 12 hours after to up to 5 days in more severe cases.
It is important to distinguish between DOMS and hurting yourself. DOMS is a dull ache and a feeling of heaviness and although it can be very uncomfortable, it is not an acute or sharp pain or associated with swelling. This could be that you have pulled or strained a muscle or a tendon and is likely to take longer to heal. If you do experience a sharp twinge when performing a certain exercise, stop immediately. Either discuss with your PT or if it feels more serious then make an appointment with your doctor – certainly if the pain hasn’t gone away within a week.
DOMS is also completely different to the immediate muscle ache you get when performing an exercise. This is caused by lactic acid building up and dispersing across your muscles. This feeling should only last a few seconds and the fitter you get, the quicker the acid disperses.
So what can you do about lessening the discomfort of DOMS? Firstly, it is slightly mind over matter. It will pass, it is helping you in the longer term to build your muscles and it will get easier the more you exercise. Try a lovely warm bath with salts and something lavender based – always my first port of call. A massage will also ease your muscles as well – but it will need to be gentle or this will be quite uncomfortable. If it is more acute, then you can take a mild painkiller, but this is always last resort.
It is quite difficult to prevent it altogether when you are exercising. The best way to manage it is to slowly progress your training. Start with lighter weights, progress your movements as opposed to starting with the more advanced exercises, and build up your reps and sets. In this way, your muscles will get used to the exercises you are performing. It is safe to exercise when you are experiencing DOMS but listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard – your muscles need the time to recover and grow.
If you have any further questions about this, please do DM me and I will be happy to help.