Why when you head back to the gym after not working out for a while do you feel stiff and sore the next few days. Or if you have to shovel snow or clean out the garage does your back, legs and shoulder ache. Everyone has experienced this muscle stiffness and soreness at some time or another after physical exertion, but why?
What is It?
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, commonly called DOMS, is described as muscle pain, soreness or stiffness that usually occurs 24-48 hours after working out. It generally peaks around the 24 hour mark and can last for 3-4 and in some severe cases even days after.
The causes are not fully understood but are theorized to be due to small micro-tears of the muscle fibers and are thought to be related to certain types of muscle contractions. It was once thought that the pain was due to latent lactic acid build-up in the muscles, which is completely untrue. The severity of the pain is not necessarily related to the severity of muscle damage but it does depend to a large extent on the type of exercise, the duration and the intensity. It is understood that eccentric muscle contractions can cause the most severe soreness.
Depending on the level of soreness, working out the next day is okay and can actually help relieve the stiffness. You should take it easy and not overdo it especially with leg exercises. Warm up well beforehand and perform some light sets of the exercises before the real sets. Stretching can also be very beneficial in relieving the soreness. For severe soreness, icing and massage the affected areas can also help. You can also just wait it out as it will simply go away after a few days.
Most people experience some level of being sore or DOMS after beginning a workout program, or performing an activity that they have not participated in for a while, as it is a common response to increased levels of exertion. It can be avoided by taking it very gradual when beginning a program and progressing with very small increments. As the body adapts to exercise so to it should adapt to the response to increases in exertion levels. Contrary to popular belief once you have been working out for a few weeks you should not continue to experience DOMS after your workouts. The old saying of “no pain, no gain” does not hold true. If you completely change your program and start something very different then you will experience a certain amount of soreness but not the same levels as when you began your program first.
Not feeling any soreness after working out does not mean you are not working out hard enough or that you have plateaued. It just means that you have both adapted to this level of exertion and also your body has adapted to the pain response related to exertion. It is okay not to feel stiff or sore after working out.