DOMS; Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness. Some regard it as a badge of honour: Sore today – Strong Tomorrow, No Pain – No Gain, Soreness is Progress, but do we need it and how much soreness is enough or too much?
Back in my late teens I read an article in a muscle magazine, I forget which – Muscle & Fitness, Flex, or Musclemag International most likely. The article suggested for an extra boost (probably a blitz of blast given the era) in your training you should try something extreme, instead of performing the usual x sets of x reps for a given weight you should drop the weight, start your set at the beginning of your favourite tune on the cassette deck (that’s how long ago it was), crank up the volume and keep the set going until the end of the song.
Music has always had a great deal of meaning for me so this appealed no end and that afternoon at the end of a leg workout I slapped my favourite soundtrack at the time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, into my walkman and started my final set of calf raises, accompanied by Spunkadelic’s 9.95 (Check it out. It has aged… interestingly) I repped and repped and repped. The track is 3 minutes and 50 seconds long which might not seem particularly long but by the end of that set my calves burned like they’d been injected with mutagen. Cowa-aching-bunga!!
The next day I met some friends in town. By the time we’d hit up the high street shops I was having trouble walking. By the time I reached home I couldn’t climb the stairs without excruciating pain and the next morning I was unable to stand upright. The DOMS was so intense that I literally had to walk like a velociraptor for three days straight. Thankfully, it was the summer holidays so there was no public shaming at school. I didn’t get a lot done that week, in the gym or otherwise and the experience changed my approach forever.
I’ve never been afraid of a little soreness. In fact, because my first memories of DOMS came the morning after a day out in the woods with my parents when I was young, waking up with that tenderness in my muscles meant I’d had an awesome day spent running, jumping and climbing. An ache was a good thing; it reminded me I’d done something awesome the day before.
DOMS is an expected part of resistance training. We should anticipate a degree of soreness especially if we try something new, increase training volume or after an intense session, however, if the soreness prevents us from going back to the gym at all, or worse makes us fearful of training hard, we’re defeating the object of training in the first place – to make ourselves better than we were before.
If we bench press with a weight that means we ‘fail’ at 10 repetitions and perform sets of 6 repetitions and we still feel DOMS, there was no need to perform 10 repetitions, at least not yet. 6 repetitions was enough, and enough is all we need.
In order to progress we do have to push ourselves beyond the current level our body is used to operating at. Doing so breaks down muscle tissue just enough to stimulate the body to repair and hyper-compensate to ensure our body is a more capable and more prepared to cope with the stress should it happen again.
We do not need to feel soreness to make progress. A little should be expected but more is not always better and that certainly applies here. Our training should stimulate, not annihilate our bodies. We should know that a training session has successfully stimulated the targeted body-parts, so feeling a little tightness or soreness 48-72 hours later is perfectly normal, however, if our squat session leaves us incapable of lowering ourselves to the toilet without wincing and bracing against the walls, let alone stand up again, it is time to re-think our approach.
Have you had an experience with DOMS you’ve never forgotten? If so, let us know and share what you’ve learned from the experience.