DOMS & Recovery
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Recovery is key in any exercise plan. Without the proper amount of regeneration, your muscles can not adapt to the stress you are introducing them to. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is usually a direct correlation with how effective or ineffective your training plan might be and will determine how you approach your regeneration protocol.
Let’s make this clear, soreness after a workout isn’t always a sign that it was a good/effective workout. Soreness is not directly related with hypertrophy or strength gain.
Let’s take a closer look at DOMS to make sense of this:
The misconception that soreness equals gains comes from the notion that you build muscle from "tearing" muscle fibers and forcing them to repair. The soreness must be directly related to those tears, right? Not quite. The relationship isn't that simple. Soreness is caused by pain sensitivity to micro-tears in muscular connective tissue (z-band filaments), but it's also heavily related to how sensitive your nociceptors (pain receptors) in your muscles are.
With that said, DOMS may be an effective indicator of how progression/recovery should be administered early on in an athlete’s training age or training program. Once that athlete achieves a higher level of fitness/strength, DOMS should only be considered when introducing a new stimulus to that athlete. It's unlikely that you'll encounter high-level athletes that experience crippling DOMS after every workout. Why wouldn't they? Their muscles have already adapted, they recover faster, and their pain threshold has increased over time. They've become more tolerant of muscle soreness. In fact, if you're able to get extremely sore after every workout, there's a good chance you're either not training frequently enough, you have some sort of electrolyte deficiency, you need to adjust your workout nutrition plan, or you're not eating or sleeping well enough.
Stretching, warming up, and training frequently can drastically reduce DOMS so do not be hesitant to work out again if your muscles are sore. Now if you are sore because you did squats, deadlifts, lunges, box jumps, and snatches in one workout, it wouldn’t be the smartest idea to do similar movements the day after. This is especially because those movements are high impact movements that stress out the connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, etc.) which heal at a slower rate of speed than muscle. In this case you would want to think about doing more of a upper body resistance emphasis, with some bodyweight leg movements and lower body cardio to get the blood flowing, followed by some light stretching.
Exercise and recovery go hand in hand. Without proper recovery, exercise is almost pointless depending on your goals. If your goal is to get stronger, and build more muscle recovery is probably the most important factor. Also, how you recover can optimize your gains. Sedentary recovery is not optimal, active recovery is. Don’t let DOMS be an excuse to limit your training frequency, only your intensity. When in doubt just train smart!!
About the Author
As a multi-sport athlete growing up, Miguel committed to football when college coaches began recruiting him in high school. His time as a collegiate and professional football player not only enhanced his passion for the sport but his interest in athletic development. Coaching strength and conditioning was a natural career transition. Miguel spent two years as an intern and assistant strength coach with the University of Florida strength and conditioning department and now uses his extensive knowledge to help others reach their fitness goals. He specializes in Olympic weightlifting and sport specific training.