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DOMS: Everything you need to know about Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness

Posted by for Life

Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness is a common experience for anyone starting a new exercise or upping the intensity of their workout. Here’s everything you need to know about the condition. 

Anyone who has begun training for the first time or stepped up the difficulty of their workout will know a little bit about Delayed-Onset Muscle Stiffness. You may not have heard of the term before, but you’ll know the feeling: whether you have to inch your way down the stairs or lower yourself down to your desk at a snail’s pace, the ache which comes with a new kind of workout is unwelcome but familiar.

What some may at first mistake to be an injury or a pulled muscle is simply your body adapting to the training you’ve introduced it to, felt most strongly 24-72 hours after you’ve completed a workout.

While it’s nothing to worry about, it’s understandable to want to know what your body is going through after you’ve completed a training session. For more information (and some handy advice from Stylist Strong’s programme creator Joslyn Thompson-Rule), here’s everything you need to know about DOMS. 

What is DOMS?

Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a type of muscle soreness which most commonly appears a day or two after exercising, and can affect anyone, regardless of their fitness level.

Although DOMS may feel like an injury or weakness, it’s actually a type of muscle conditioning. According to the NHS, DOMS is a sign of your muscles adapting to the new level of training you’ve introduced. That means that next time you do the same exercise you’ll feel less soreness, and even recover more quickly.

One of the most important things to remember is that DOMS can happen to anyone.

“DOMS happens to everybody,” says Stylist Strong’s programme creator Joslyn Thompson-Rule. “Newbies think that it only happens to them, but even pro-athletes will get DOMS after they train if they haven’t trained in a while.”

Woman stretching
DOMS: It's important to remember that it can happen to someone who's just started working out or a professional athlete.

How long does DOMS last?

DOMS can last anywhere between three to five days, but your recovery time is dependent on your fitness level. 

What is happening to your muscles when you get DOMS?

When you push your body during a new type or level of exercise, it is believed that tiny microscopic muscle tears occur in your muscle fibres, causing the pain associated with DOMS.

However bad it sounds, DOMS is a completely safe and normal thing to experience when you first start exercising or increase the intensity of your training regimen, as the soreness is part of an adaptation process which gives your muscles greater stamina and strength as they recover. 

Can you prevent DOMS?

In order to minimise soreness after exercise, the best thing to do is start any new exercise programme very slowly, so your muscles can gradually adapt to the change in training regime. 

Warming up won’t stop DOMS from occurring, but it will prepare your muscles for exercise and is good practice for anyone who works out.

Can you exercise with DOMS?

As long as you’re sure the pain you’re experiencing is DOMS and not a type of injury, you should be fine to continue exercising. 

Don’t push the muscles where you’re experiencing DOMS too hard - give them time to rest and recover and focus on another area of the body. 

What can you do to ease DOMS?

There’s no simple way to treat DOMS: after all, the recovery process is part of the adaptation of your muscles, so make sure to remember that the pain isn’t dangerous and a normal experience for someone changing the way they exercise.

The NHS advises simple treatments such as rest, ice packs, painkillers and massage, but again, those will only ease the symptoms, not get rid of them completely.

But if you’ve found yourself with a particularly painful case of DOMS, getting your blood flowing is one of the best things you can do, according to Thompson-Rule.

“Blood flow is really good for DOMS, so you could do a simple, light, steady state cardio session,” she says. “You could also have an Epsom salt bath or a magnesium salt bath the night after your session - that also helps.”

“It does improve, DOMS,” she adds. “The more consistently you train, the easier it gets.”

Fitness writer Miranda Larbi swears by her infared sauna blanket that she uses to help alleviate muscle soreness after a tough workout. 

Stylist Strong is a fitness brand specialising in strength training specifically tailored for women. Our classes are designed to build both physical and mental strength in a smart and informed way.

So, whether you’re a beginner or already have strength-training experience, Stylist Strong has a class to suit you. Come and try our strength-based classes at our own purpose-built studio at The AllBright Mayfair. 

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Images: Getty

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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