What is DOMS and how can you treat it?
DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is the bane of anyone who works out, let alone someone who uses weights or strenuous bodyweight exercises, but in this post we'll look at:
- What is DOMS?
- What causes it?
- How can I treat it?
What is DOMS?
After a strenuous workout, you might feel great, knowing that you've smashed your goals and overcome your challenges, you'll also probably ache a bit, but this will go away in under 5 minutes. This aching is called AMS (acute muscle soreness) and is thought to be caused by the accumulation of chemical end products in your muscle cells.
24 to 48 hours later, however, you'll start to feel sore again. Poking and prodding your muscles will hurt and you WON'T want to work out again.
This is DOMS, it's the demon of workouts that creeps up on you the next morning after you've done a heavy workout.
What Causes DOMS?
To understand this question we must first understand the different types of muscular contraction. These are:
- Isometric contraction (muscle is static)
- Concentric contraction (muscle shortens)
- Eccentric contraction (muscle lengthens)
In terms of a workout, it looks like this:
- Holding a pushup position - Isometric
- Pushing up from the ground - Concentric
- Lowering yourself down - Eccentric
DOMS occurs from the eccentric portion of the movement. Isometric exercises have little effect on DOMS, and concentric exercises have no effect. There is evidence to support that the eccentric portion (lengthening) is more responsible for muscle growth than the concentric (shortening) portion.
The exact cause of pain from DOMS is unknown, but the commonly accepted idea is that during the lengthening portion of the exercise, small tears are created in the muscles (on a microscopic level). This causes calcium to build up in the muscle, which causes inflammation (and therefore pain).
DOMS is not dangerous, and doesn't mean you are injured, but you should not work out while your muscles still feel sore, this could damage them and could mess with your workouts.
Now that we've established what DOMS is, we need to know how to treat it. Since DOMS is caused by inflammation, treating it is a simple matter of reducing that inflammation.
Method 1: L-Glutamine
A study from 2010 in the British Journal of Sport Medicine found that the amino acid 'L-Glutamine' was able to decrease the effects of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness when taken as a supplement, as well as decreasing muscle damage and preventing decreased hip flexor performance. Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid in human blood.
If you would like to purchase L-Glutamine supplements, we have found some online (we are neither sponsored nor are affiliates to these products, we have no connection to the vendors as of the date of this blog post's publishing)
- Prozis L-Glutamine 300g
- Myprotein L-Glutamine amino acid
- Holland and Barrett l-glutamine 50 tablets 500mg
Method 2: Foam rolling
A study from 2015 from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information found that a 20 minute bout of foam rolling immediately after exercise significantly reduced muscle soreness, stating:
" Foam rolling effectively reduced DOMS and associated decrements in most dynamic performance measures."
Foam rolling acts to massage the affected muscles, reducing inflammation and alleviating the pain of DOMS. This method is by far the best in terms of both cost and effectiveness. In fact, the 2015 study put in its key points:
"Self-massage through foam rolling could benefit athletes seeking a recovery modality that is relatively affordable, easy to perform, and time efficient and that enhances muscle recovery."
To get the most out of foam rolling, you should roll for 20 minutes (or at least 10) after working out and 24 hours later. The great thing about foam rolling is that it's very non-invasive, and you can do it while watching TV or reading. Another great thing about foam rolling is that it's just a one-time cost, unlike supplements, and foam rollers don't wear out or break under normal use.
You can find a foam roller here.
Method 3: SLEEP
Sleep is important for recovery, no doubt. The body recovers the most when you're sleeping, so getting the full 8 hours (or more!) is important to allow your muscles to recover from the day's workout. If you don't sleep enough, your DOMS will last longer than it should be lasting, and your muscles won't develop as well as they should.
To help you, here is some advice on getting quality sleep:
- Keep hydrated, but do not drink right before bed (you'll wake up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet)
- Keep a good airflow (if it is too stuffy, open a window or, if it is too cold, leave your door ajar)
- Keep a good temperature (if it is too hot, open a window, if it is too cold, get an extra blanket or turn the heating/radiator on)
- Develop a simple routine you do right before bed (it can be as easy as brushing your teeth and washing your face, just make sure that you always go to bed right after, it will put you in the mindset for sleep)
Quality sleep is a must for recovery.
For alleviating DOMS, you can also try immediately applying moderate moist heat (a wet heat source), a 2013 study found it to significantly alleviate muscle pain.
Another method may be to progress slowly. If you only increase your weights by 5kg or so a week, you'll be at far less risk for DOMS than if each workout you push yourself to lift a much heavier weight than you did last. The same applies for running. Increase your distance (or decrease your time) at a steadier pace, and you'll be less susceptible to DOMS.
DOMS gets all of us in the end, and while it doesn't mean you're injured or you've done something wrong, you should listen to it and let yourself heal. I hope you can use the advice in this blog and, if you're a beginner, don't be worried about DOMS, it's natural.
Thank you for reading, if you need anything, contact us!