Is muscle soreness after training good or bad?

If you’re feeling the burn after your training sessions, it’s likely you’re experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness. Which according to The Fit Pharmacist may actually be a good thing.

Most of us have experienced that ‘pain’ after an intense workout. The type of pain that makes even the simplest of daily tasks a struggle – like sitting on the toilet after leg day.

What causes this pain, and more importantly, is it a bad thing?

What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)?

This type of localised pain is referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and is usually experienced 10-12 hours after a training session. It typically peaks between 24 and 72 hours before subsiding. The pain is usually only felt when the muscle is stretched, contracted or put under pressure, not when it is at rest.

What causes DOMS?

Soreness is predominantly caused by eccentric (lengthening) contractions of the muscle. It’s generally in response to unaccustomed training (ie. beginners or when adding a new exercise to your program) or particularly strenuous training. After such exercise, the muscle adapts rapidly to prevent further muscle damage.

It was once thought that DOMS were caused by a build up of lactic acid and toxic metabolic waste products in the muscle, however this theory has been superseded. Research has shown that DOMS appears to be “a product of inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the connective tissue elements that sensitize nociceptors and thereby heighten the sensations of pain.”

In other words, DOMS appears to occur due to inflammation from microtrauma in the connective tissue.

Can I still train while experiencing DOMS?

Continued use of the sore muscle has no adverse effect on recovery from soreness and does not exacerbate muscle damage.

However you may find that your performance is affected in two ways:

  1. You won’t be able to lift as heavy; and/or
  2. Your form may be compromised.

Extreme or constant muscle soreness can be counterproductive to long term muscle building prospects and can affect your motivation to continue training.

Is DOMS bad?

Not necessarily. After performing an unaccustomed eccentric exercise, the muscle rapidly adapts to reduce further damage from the same exercise. As a result, pain and other indicators of muscle damage, such as swelling, reduced strength and reduced range of motion, are less intense the next time you train.

Does DOMS build muscle?

Muscle damage is one of the key factors in muscle hypertrophy (building muscle). However you don’t need to experience muscle soreness after a training session to build muscle, and you shouldn’t rely on it as an accurate indicator of the effectiveness of that session.

Studies have shown that DOMS is not associated with muscle growth, and in many cases you get better growth with less DOMS. For example, people who train very infrequently or only train each body part once per week often report intense DOMS, however, many of them struggle to build muscle. In contrast, those who train more frequently (i.e. 2-3 times per week, per muscle group) often report less DOMS but observe more muscle growth.

How do I prevent DOMS?

One of the best ways to reduce the severity of DOMS is to progress slowly when starting a new program. Giving the muscle time to adapt to new stress may help to minimise the severity of symptoms. Keep in mind though that it’s unlikely that soreness can be avoided altogether.

How do I treat DOMS?

DOMS symptoms typically subside within 3 to 7 days after activity and do not usually necessitate the need for medical intervention. If the pain level becomes debilitating, if your limbs experience heavy swelling or if your urine becomes dark, then medical consultation is advisable. Some studies show that increasing blood flow to the muscle through low-intensity activities, such as walking, cycling, swimming or yoga, massage, hot baths, or even a sauna may help to relieve symptoms.

If you have any further questions for Holly about muscle soreness and your training, feel free to use our contact form.

Holly Louise, aka The Fit Pharmacist, is a registered pharmacist, certified personal trainer, online coach and ambassador for INC Sports Nutrition. Through evidence-based nutrition and training methods, Holly Louise helps others create healthy and sustainable lifestyle change. Holly Louise is also a champion of flexible dieting and positive body image and has created a large community of women who support and empower each other to become their best selves.
Find out more about Holly Louise on Instagram, Facebook and at The Fit Pharmacist.


This article first appeared on The Fit Pharmacist and is republished here with permission.