Dealin’ With DOMS Part 1/3

16 Sep Dealin’ With DOMS Part 1/3

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Not a day goes by where I don’t get asked by someone questioning methods and ways for dealing with their sudden inability to stand up from the toilet seat, without using the walls on either side of them for desperate assistance.

Okay, I’m probably a little over-exaggerating there, but DOMS – or in nonacronym form: delayed onset muscle soreness – is certainly a common hindrance to one’s life – regardless of training age, experience, or even level of expertise in the gym.

DOMS – as we’ll continue to call them from now on – tend to enjoy rearing their little ugly heads every so often when performing at an intensity that we’re not quite accustomed to.

So, step up the intensity of a workout that you’re used to by increasing the reps, sets, or simply the time under tension that your muscles live through, and you’ll experience them.

But hey, that doesn’t mean that you should be scared about them and can’t hold the power to aid yourself in keeping on top of these pesky DOMS when they do decide to show up, right?



If you’re beginning, returning, or just pushing yourself in the gym on a regular basis, experiencing DOMS at some stage in your journey, is bound to happen. Whilst excessive and consistent DOMS every day may not be ideal to your way of life or even your training goals, perhaps dealing with that more extreme side of things is another topic for another time. (You can Google ‘rhabdomyolysis’ in the meantime.)

DOMS are, surprisingly, not a solved and completely understood case yet. And it still is a largely researched topic of interest.

However, if you personally have ever experienced them before, then you’d very well know that they usually like to show up the day after your session, peak at day two or so, then slowly (and ideally) fade away into nothingness.

Until next time, that is.

But, what you may not already know is a few misconceptions about them that we should probably clear up before moving ahead.

The Lactic Acid theory

lactic acid stick structure

The pretty little lactic acid stick structure. Organic chem students know what’s up with this one.

Many moons ago (1956 to be exact), muscle soreness was thought to be brought about thanks to the accumulation of lactic acid within the muscles after strenuous activity.

Which sounds like a legitimate theory at first.

But what came next was the understanding that the breakdown of glucose into lactate during exercise (a process known as fermentation), was thanks to a lack of oxygen and a super high demand for energy. So out the window that theory went.


Blaming the lactic acid build up for the pain that you’re in two or more days after training when your body has had more than enough time to breathe in oxygen and clear it out, is certainly not a nice thing to do anyway. 

I mean, what did lactate ever do to you?


Oh yeah…

Muscle Spasms theory

Less moons ago (1961 to be exact), a buildup of a pain substance termed “p” within the muscles was claimed to be the cause for grief upon our nociceptors (our pain receptors). 

This particular substance was blamed to cause reflex spasms in our muscles, and in turn, cause the pain sensation to amplify following a workout.

To counter this, stretching was prescribed as the scientists performing the study noted that stretching was seen to decrease the soreness that a large number of the participants experienced after training. 

Which sounds all well and good. But twenty-odd years later, when the spasm theory was completely abolished, stretching to relieve muscle soreness lived on, despite the newly-found information.stretching_cat

But so, if the spasm theory is flawed, does that mean stretching to relieve DOMS is flawed too? It’s a good question, but we’ll get to that next week. For now, let’s round things up and explain what DOMS really are.


Muscle spasms and lactic acid build up certainly both sound like reasonable explanations to this whole muscle soreness thing following a workout. But! What REALLY is going on and causing you to have to resort to traversing those stairs like the baby above in the video, is actually a result of what is known as mechanical stress to your muscle fibers.

doms on sarcomere

Minute ruptures in the sarcomere of a muscle.

Most notably, from excessive stretching and/or contraction of a muscle when it is lengthened.

Whilst indeed shortening (concentric) and static holding (isometric) muscle actions can result in pain the next day or so, eccentric (the lengthening) seems to be the absolute alpha wreaker of havoc when it comes to true DOMS.

Factors, like your age, your training age, previous damage to your muscle tissue and tendons, and even how good your little neutrophils are at showing up to inflammation sites for healing, also all determine how hard you will get hit by DOMS and for how long, too.


Which might seem a little unfair, I agree, but typically (and I do mean typically), DOMS tend to arise within the first 24 hours following exercise, and only hang around for anywhere between 72-120 hours.

So, it’s not too bad. 

Although, if they hang around for any longer than that, then you might have done some damage that you should pay closer attention to. Which again, we’ll get to at a later stage.

For now, with this article already passing the 900 word count, let’s cut it right there and get to the rest of the DOMS story next week.

Click here for Part Two.

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Hayden Perno
Hayden Perno