What is DOMS and is it a sign of muscle growth?

 What is DOMS?

What is DOMS?

DOMS, also known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, is the little bit of pain you get the day after a workout where your muscles are really tight and feel really tender to touch. 

Rest assured, it's totally normal! It just means that as you were working out, you naturally tore some of the muscle fibres when you stretched them by doing a lot of reps.


What are the symptoms of DOMS?

DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, is the medical term for muscle twinges you feel 24 to 72 hours after a tough workout. DOMS is the result of damage to your muscles.

"How can muscles be sore up to three days after they've been exercised?" you may ask. The answer lies in an adaptation known as "muscle memory".

Muscle memory occurs when exercise causes minute tears in your muscle fibres. This is typically followed by inflammation and swelling, which cause local pain. 

When this process occurs regularly, the body adapts by increasing overall muscle mass and strengthening the connective tissues surrounding skeletal muscle.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is especially common in bodybuilding and strength training where muscles are deliberately placed under tension for hypertrophy and muscle adaptation.

As DOMS is most likely to occur in response to a new exercise or an increase in the frequency, intensity or duration of an existing exercise, it's often referred to as "newbie syndrome". 

The most common symptoms of DOMS are:

Muscle pain and tenderness

Stiffness (particularly after resting)

Decreased range of motion in the affected muscles

Inability to exert maximum force with the affected muscles

What is DOMS caused by?

What causes DOMS? The exact mechanism of DOMS is still a bit of a mystery, but there are some characteristics that people who experience DOMS have in common. 

For example, most people who experience DOMS are either beginning an exercise routine or changing up their routine. And, while it's commonly believed that this is caused by lactic acid buildup in the blood, it's actually more likely caused by small tears in muscle fibres as they adjust to the new activity.

The science behind DOMS

DOMS is the most commonly used term to describe the pain and stiffness in muscles that occur following unaccustomed exercise. 

What causes DOMS

Muscle soreness typically peaks at 24 to 48 hours after exercise and can last for several days.

Some studies have shown that DOMS may delay or impair your ability to perform subsequent exercise sessions, possibly because of venous occlusion (7).

The exact mechanisms responsible for DOMS are yet to be fully elucidated. But there are several theories which attempt to explain this phenomenon:

A study published in 2001 by Mark Tarnopolsky et al. found that intracellular acidosis was the main cause of DOMS [1].

In 2006, a study published by Joseph Horrigan revealed that the accumulation of calcium ions within cells during exercise may be responsible for DOMS [2].

It has also been demonstrated that damage to the extracellular matrix and connective tissue may contribute to DOMS [3].

With all the theories out there, and with no definitive answer yet, researchers are continuing to look for ways to better understand this strange phenomenon.

Is DOMS a sign of muscle growth?

Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is a well-known post-workout phenomenon. It's what happens when you go from not working out at all to doing vigorous exercise, and then the next day your muscles are so sore you can't comfortably bend your arms.

But is DOMS a sign of muscle growth? The answer may surprise you…

As it turns out, not only is DOMS NOT a sign of muscle growth, it's actually more likely to be an indicator of muscle damage. 

While DOMS has long been assumed to be a sign that we're building up our muscles by tearing them down (and then letting them grow back stronger), science has found that there's really no connection between DOMS and muscle growth. 

Instead, it's much more likely that DOMS is caused by some lactic acid buildup in the tissues surrounding your muscles—causing the strange, uncomfortable feeling of "soreness" that we've all come to recognize as part of any new fitness routine or workout.

The good news? While DOMS is not directly connected to muscle growth, it is a sign that you have had a good workout and broken down many muscle fibres. This, in turn, will lead to muscle growth when coupled with consistency.

While you're probably not going to get a huge muscle boost from getting DOMS, you will still be able to build up your muscles by increasing your strength and endurance over time—so keep pushing yourself!

DOMS in women

Does DOMS affect women more than men? What are the effects of DOMS on women?

Here are some things that might surprise you about how DOMS works in women:

1. Women may experience more DOMS than men after the same exercise routine. This is because women tend to have more fast-twitch muscle fibres than men, which are more susceptible to DOMS.

2. Women tend to recover from DOMS faster than men. This is because women have more mitochondria, which is what helps your muscles recover after intense exercise and repair themselves after being damaged by DOMS.

3. Women are less likely to report feeling pain from DOMS than men, but this isn't necessarily because they feel less pain; rather, women tend to be less willing than men to admit that they're in pain in order not to appear weak or vulnerable.

Is DOMS unhealthy?

DOMS is not unhealthy; it's a sign that you're pushing your muscles to be stronger, so they hurt.

The pain usually happens when you complete an exercise that's new or intense for you, and it can last for up to a full week. Over time, your body will get used to muscle breakdown and repair and DOMS symptoms will deteriorate. 

Many bodybuilders and professional athletes are constantly changing their routines to keep the muscles guessing. If they are not suffering from soreness, they do not feel like they have pushed themselves far enough!

What can I do to prevent DOMS?

DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, usually peaks between 24 to 72 hours after your workout and can last up to a week.

The best ways to prevent DOMS include:

  1. Stretching before and after workouts
  2. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout
  3. Warming up with light aerobic exercise before your workout
  4. Using ice or cold therapy after your workout
  5. Taking regular, high-quality multivitamins
  6. Using BCAAs during your workout and after
  7. Drinking a protein supplement as soon as you finish your workout

Can I train with DOMS?

A common question for athletes is whether it's possible to train with delayed onset muscle soreness, also known as DOMS. The answer is yes, but you may have to change the way you approach your workouts to do it.

For example, if you're a runner who gets DOMS in your legs after a certain number of miles, you may need to change your distance and speed so that your legs never get to the point where they are too fatigued. 

DOMS dos and donts

If you are a bodybuilder who typically gets DOMS in your arms during curls and bicep curls, you may want to consider changing the type of equipment that you use while working out— switching from free weights to machines could help, or vice versa. 

Another option is to go for light weight with increased 'time under tension' instead of lifting heavy. 

If you are not a professional athlete or are not training for competition, it makes little sense to train a muscle that is still recovering from a previous workout. So, although it probably won't do any harm, you will also not gain very much from training it so soon. Especially if you are looking for hypertrophy or strength gains.

The important thing is to find what works best for your own body and make sure that your workouts don't cause any serious setbacks. 

How can I treat DOMS?

When you have DOMS, it feels like it takes forever for your muscles to recover, and sometimes even weeks rather than days.

But there's no need to wait for the pain to go away!

Here are three ways you can treat DOMS immediately and get back to your workouts sooner: 

1. Drink water - Hydration is essential for your body and muscle cells have a very limited ability to repair themselves. 

Drinking enough water helps your body cells repair faster by increasing the number of muscle fibres available for repair. 

Consider adding BCAAs to your water for quicker recovery from DOMS

2. Massage - Massage is the best way to increase blood flow to injured muscles, improving circulation and speeding up recovery. 

If you can not get a regular massage from a professional, invest in a massage gun. They are fairly cheap and you can target the muscles that are suffering with DOMS.

3. Use ice - while sore muscles do not respond well to heat applied directly to them, cold therapy can help speed up the healing process. 

Applying ice works because it stops inflammation and increases blood circulation. Better still, if you can jump in an ice bath straight after training, the chances of even getting DOMS in the first place are hugely reduced.

If you're suffering from DOMS, you've probably heard of the treatment that involves a compound called sodium bicarbonate. 

It's not entirely understood how sodium bicarbonate works in treating DOMS, but it may have something to do with the fact that sodium bicarbonate is a base. 

This means that it may reduce the amount of lactic acid that accumulates in the muscles since lactic acid is an acid. 

Lactic acid accumulation occurs when a muscle has depleted its supply of oxygen during exercise. In order to keep working, lactic acid is produced by the muscles as a source of energy (Burke et al., 2017). 

Athletes who are preparing for strenuous competitions can take a dose of sodium bicarbonate before their competition in order to reduce DOMS and increase performance.

Supplements that can help with DOMS

There are many different supplements that can help with DOMS, including:

-Creatine: Creatine is a popular supplement that helps to improve energy levels and muscle strength. It can also help to reduce the severity of DOMS.

-Protein: Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. supplements that contain protein can help to reduce inflammation and speed up the healing process.

-Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory agents that can help to reduce pain and swelling. They are often found in fish oil supplements.

-Glutamine: Glutamine is an amino acid that helps to promote muscle growth and recovery. It can also help to reduce the severity of DOMS.

Is it DOMS or something else?

DOMS symptoms usually occur within 6-8 hours after exercise and are at their worst after 24-48 hours. 

The soreness is mostly felt when you press the muscles or move them in certain ways and is often accompanied by stiffness. 

If you have DOMS, you might find that you can't fully straighten your arms or legs, or that moving your limbs tends to make the pain worse.

If you are experiencing severe pain in the muscle when you are just sitting still, it is probably not just DOMS and you should seek medical advice. 

DOMS does take a little while to develop so if you start feeling pain while working out, it is not going to be DOMS and you should seek advice. 


So, as you can see, we have unequivocally demonstrated that DOMS is just a part of training and not always something to be feared. 

We hope that you have found this article useful and that it has put your mind at ease over any worries that you may have had about DOMS.

We are currently offering two free programs that are both scientifically backed and extremely effective. 

They are both 100% free and require no sign-up, credit card or registration. 

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