“No pain, no gain” is a commonly used phrase when it comes to getting in shape. It may also be why many of us think you have to feel bad after a workout to know you’ve done enough.
There are many reasons why your muscles may become sore after a workout. But, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be in pain for hours or days after exercise to know you’ve trained well.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the scientific term to describe the sore, tender feeling our muscles have after a workout. Typically, this happens after we’ve done particularly strenuous exercise, or if we’re doing exercise we’re not used to. It can happen after any type of exercise, although it is more common after eccentric exercise. These are movements where muscles resist a load when stretched (like when running downhill or walking down stairs). Smaller muscles in the upper limbs (such as your biceps and shoulders) may be more susceptible to DOMS because they may not be used to to eccentric exercise.
While DOMS can occur even hours after a workout, it’s usually peaks about two days later, depending on the intensity and volume of exercise. But although DOMS is common, why it happens remains poorly understood – although researchers have a few theories as to what is happening.
The current scientific theory is that DOMS is related to a combination of:
- Mechanical damage (to the protein structure of the muscle fiber),
- Lesion of the membrane that envelops the muscle fiber,
- Damage to the connective tissue surrounding the muscle fibers,
- The body’s inflammatory response, causing further breakdown of muscle protein and stimulating certain nerves, causing pain.
Some degree of exercise-induced muscle damage is likely needed to help build bigger and stronger muscles. In fact, although muscle damage from exercise can reduce muscle function after a workout (sometimes even for up to two weeks), you are less likely to experience DOMS to the same degree the next time you train. This may also explain why people who exercise regularly do not experience DOMS as often.
Regular weight training, focused on eccentric exercises (such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses) has also been shown to reduce the harmful effect of exercise on the muscles after ten training sessions. There is probably a number of reasons for thisbut a lot of it has to do with the muscle getting better at protect against damage.
How often and how badly a person experiences DOMS varies from person to person. However, older people may be more susceptible to both exercise-induced muscle damage and DOMS, possibly due to the fact that their muscles are less able to recover after strenuous exercise. Research has also shown that people with a certain genetic makeup are better able to recover from eccentric exercise than other people who have done the exact same workout.
If you are starting a new exercise program and your first workout is particularly intense or long in duration, it is quite difficult to avoid DOMS. Adding more eccentric exercises into your workout regimen can also lead to DOMS. But again, being in pain doesn’t necessarily mean you had a more efficient session — it just means you’re doing something your muscles aren’t used to.
So if you exercise regularly and find that you don’t feel as sore later in the day or even in the days following your workout, rest assured your workout is still working – your muscles just got better. to deal with the damage and recover from it.
If you want to get fitter and stronger, instead of feeling like you have to train until you hurt, focus instead on a principle called “progressive overload.” This is where you gradually increase the amount of exercise you do each time, such as performing extra reps on an exercise or adding extra weight. Not only is progressive overload has been shown to be an effective way to build muscle and strength, it can also reduce how often you experience DOMS. Studies show even a few weeks Regularly using progressive overload during workouts is enough to see this effect.
So instead of measuring the effectiveness of your training based on your pain, instead try gradually increasing either the number of reps you do each week or the amount of weight you lift. These progressive gains in fitness and strength will show you how effective your previous workouts have been.