You may have heard of (or experienced for yourself) delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), or the sore feeling that typically begins 6-8 hours after a workout, peaks at about 1-2 days after, and then subsides after about 3-4 days. This type of soreness is most common after a really intense or new workout that your body isn’t used to. The feeling may range from a mild aching and tightness in the worked muscles to debilitating pain that prevents you from executing the most minuscule of tasks, for example, brushing your teeth or picking up the newspaper.
I think the worst DOMS I ever experienced was after I had taken a 4-week hiatus from exercise — 2 weeks to travel followed by 2 weeks of being sick. After I recovered, I jumped right in to a pretty intense, largely plyometric exercise program. Disclaimer: I would NEVER recommend that anyone start out with a plyometric program or begin one after a long break from exercise. But, at the time (which was about 1.5 years ago) I had been exercising at high intensities pretty regularly for about 8 years, so I thought my body could handle it.
It handled it alright.
My quads were so sore that walking downstairs, and even sitting to use the restroom, became impossible without using the railing or wall for support. This lasted nearly a week. Not only did it make normal daily activities difficult, it put a damper on my next few workouts. That being said, after the soreness subsided, it subsided for good. Never again did I feel that kind of soreness during this exercise program and there were zero long-lasting adverse effects. In other words, I recovered 110%. And when I say 110%, I mean 110% because my body was much stronger afterwards.
I am definitely NOT advocating that you should all go out and make yourself as sore as I was during that week. I probably overdid it a little bit and could have gotten just as good, if not better, results if I had eased into it a little more to prevent some of that DOMS. But some soreness is also not a bad thing.
When you put stress on your muscles beyond what they’re used to, your muscles experience damage in the form of microtrauma and microtears. This microtrauma sends a signal to other cells to not just repair the damaged tissue, but to make the tissue stronger (and bigger) so that it can better withstand the same amount of stress next time. It’s thought that DOMS likely results from this microtrauma and/or other associated processes. Feeling some soreness, therefore, is probably a good indicator of subsequent muscle growth and strength increase. That being said, feeling sore is not a requirement to getting stronger. Your muscles can grow and get stronger even when you don’t feel sore after every workout.
So is DOMS good or bad?
My vote is that it’s not necessarily either. Physiologically, it appears to be pretty neutral. It’s not a bad thing to be sore (although it could be bad if the soreness is excessive or due to an actual injury, in which case you should see a qualified medical professional). The benefits or disadvantages of DOMS are more likely rooted in the psyche. For example, I for one like feeling somewhat sore the day after a good workout because it makes me feel like I’ve done something (even though I could probably achieve the same gains without pushing myself to that level of soreness). For some people who are more sensitive to pain, feeling sore can be totally demotivating and so they may want to ease into hard workouts a bit more slowly. More likely than not, no one will ever be able to totally avoid feeling sore all the time since it’s a natural reaction to new and added physical stress. And whether it’s a good thing or bad thing will depend on the severity and how you feel about it.
I’m interested in knowing your thoughts about DOMS and whether it’s good or bad! Let me know in the comments! And feel free to like and share this article is you found it interesting or insightful 🙂