DOMS …What is it?

This acronym relates to what we call “delayed onset of muscle soreness”. Technically the following information is really what the experts and scientists believe causes this disorder; we are still truly not sure. This is because we would have to do a muscle biopsy to really determine what is going on. Of course this would be invasive and not appropriate. So we will look at what we know to date and what we believe is happening at a cellular level.
DOMS appears as pain and stiffness in muscles normally the next day after a weight or strenuous exercise program and is worse the second day peaking at the 48 hour mark. You will hear many refer to this muscle soreness as the accumulation of lactic acid in our muscles. This is a very popular explanation but is incorrect. Our blood and muscle lactate levels will return to normal within the hour after exercise. The cause of DOMS is a sequence of events starting with eccentric exercise causing muscle damage and muscle protein to breakdown, resulting in cell inflammation and an increase in muscle temperature locally at the affected area.
As a result of this pain our pain receptors are activated, causing the sensation of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Inflammation and swelling should also be considered as they also activate our sensitive pain sensors around muscle fibers.
As stated above, DOMS occurs mostly after an intense weight workout where the eccentric movement is most dominated. (The part of a movement where the muscle elongates, when you lower the weight back to the starting position, sometimes referred to as negative reps) It is in fact when the muscle is beginning to adapt quickly to prevent muscle damage. This is known as “an adaptation phase” or process that will eventually result in greater strength and endurance as our muscles recover and grow. (Hypertrophy…or get bigger) This is different to muscle exhaustion, sudden pain, injury or fatigue in that it happens after the exertion. There is no bruising, swelling or strain. This aliment is common but can be painful and very annoying where the person afflicted finds it hard to get up after sitting down and doing some basic daily activities.
Many will debate the type of treatment for DOMS. In an Australian study stretching was ruled out as a form of treatment while some would recommend this. However, this research in Australian showed there was no relief by administrating a stretching routine. The following is what I have found works for most people. In saying this, the soreness related to DOMS will abate in time as the body adapts itself naturally. We can lessen the DOMS by slowly increasing the weight bearing exercise and building up our client’s weights at a slightly slower pace.
So if you have clients who experience DOMS try these simple things to ease their discomfort. (NOT laughing at their soreness is not a good start….. )
1. Active recovery, this is where the client completes easy gentle exercises like a long slow walk which will increase blood flow to the affected areas.
2. A gentle massage (as a vigorous one will put them in more agony)
3. Ice: ice the affected areas. Like our elite athletes if you can stand it immerse yourself in a cold bath (add ice if you are brave)
4. Plain old rest.
5. A gentle stretch (even though this has no scientific backing now)
6. Drugs!! Non steroidal anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen or aspirin. (if you are not asthmatic) This will ease the pain, only time will heal the soreness.
7. Ensure the soreness has subsided totally before attempting your next workout.
8. Warm up before any further eccentric form of exercise.
9. Go easy on your clients; we want them to come back.
• go easy at the start,
• Gradually increase resistance, remember all clients are at various fitness levels, ages and in a variety of conditions.
• If you are setting 3 sets start with 2 sets on the first few sessions when introducing a new program then add the 3 rd set on the 3rd or 4th training session.
• Cool clients down with a walk on the treadmill at the end or some other passive movement.
• Avoid any sudden changes in your client’s program
• Start a weight program with light weights and monitor their soreness.
• Do not suddenly add extra time in your client’s workouts.


John Hart

“Master’s In Education” (Disability) Newcastle University Australia

“Grad Cert Education” Newcastle University Australia

“Diploma Fitness/Recreation”

“Diploma of Sport and Recreation”

“Cert 4 Personal Training”

“Level 1 Strength and Conditioning Coach”

Member of ASCA (Australian Strength and Conditioning Association)

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