Help! I’m walking like a duck!
You have psyched yourself up, you have bought new fitness clothing, you have set out your goals, you are finally ready to jump on to the Health and Fitness train and start your amazing journey. But after successfully completing your first exercise session, that vision of a gorgeous sculpted body strutting down the street couldn’t be farther from your mind, as you find yourself waddling around like a duck… What’s happened?
You are most likely experiencing DOMS. Welcome to the world of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
What is it?
DOMS is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles after exercising. It is usually felt between 24 and 72 hours after activity, and although it usually peaks around 48 hours, there is obviously individual variation.
What causes it?
Previously it was thought that a build-up of lactic acid in the muscles cause this pain and discomfort, however that is widely rejected now, and within the Health and Fitness industry it is now accepted that micro tears in the muscle fibres are the culprit. This happens because the muscle is put under a certain about stress that it hasn’t previously been used to. Once the muscle is damaged from these small ruptures, it reacts quickly in an attempt to protect and repair itself, therefore cause swelling, inflammation and tenderness. This in turn can cause a reduction in strength and a limited range of movement – which is why you may find yourself struggling to get out of your sofa, sliding down the stairs on your bum, or wincing while trying to wash your hair! You can thank DOMS for these epic moments in life.
Is it good, bad or ugly?
To be honest, it’s a bit of all three!
Proudly wearing a badge of honour when experiencing DOMS was once the thing to do, however it is no longer seen as such an ‘achievement’. Research shows that you do not need to experience muscle soreness to this level to reap maximum benefits from your workout and for physical improvements to be made (phew).
Muscle damage in this way is one factor in muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth), and therefore promotes the muscle to become larger and stronger when repaired. Your muscles will continue to do this when they are ruptured under stress, thus making them bigger and stronger over time. This happens with or without DOMS being present, but experiencing that pain and stiffness is a very clear reminder that your muscles are adapting and becoming stronger, therefore DOMS is somewhat a good thing.
Saying that though, too much muscle damage can also be a bad thing. If the muscle soreness being experienced is indeed in line with DOMS (and not an acute injury), but is extremely intense or doesn’t subside after 72 hours, this then interferes with future training sessions, thus slowing down your fitness progress. DOMS can therefore be counterproductive.
DOMS can make you waddle like a duck in to that important meeting (very unattractive). It can prevent you from actually getting off the toilet without wrapping a towel around the handle of the bathroom door to use as a homemade leverage system (a common activity practiced by many a Tribe Member!). It can result in your hair entering its own phase of dreadlocks due to excessive difficulty in washing, drying or brushing it properly (save your arm muscles and wear a hat – another great Tribe Member tip!). And it can trigger a stream of expletives and an array of involuntary grunts and moans every time you try to move (embarrassing). And so, for those reasons, DOMS can also be an ugly, mischievous wee thing.
Make friends with DOMS
So, if you are experiencing DOMS, don’t worry. It is normal, it will ease in a few days, and it’s a sign that your body is about to become fitter, stronger. The good news is, that as your body adapt after a period of DOMS, it will be able to cope much better with future workouts! That’s why we always encourage you not to give up, and stick with it! Your efforts will pay off in the end, so please don’t interpret DOMS as a cue to be demotivated – quite the opposite in fact.
However, if you want to hurry the healing process along, or perhaps try to prevent future attacks of DOMS, then there are a few top tips and handy hints that may help!