Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), or the pain that emerges in the 24-48 hours after completing a tough workout, is a funny thing. Some people love it and some people hate it. I have one client who (jokingly) tells me unless she struggles to get out of bed after each workout, she wants her money back.
On the other end of the scale, I have one client who (seriously) tells me if she feels any soreness the next day, she’s never coming back. She recently came back from a six week holiday so it was almost impossible for her not to be sore – what a challenge for me! This particular client deserves an entire blog post to herself, but these two examples prove that many people prefer a different approach when it comes to training.
DOMS is caused by either a build up of lactic acid or a breakdown or inflammation of muscle tissue. Ultimately, it’s not difficult to make someone feel a workout the next day. But does aching for five days mean that you got a better workout than someone who felt only the smallest hint of tenderness? Absolutely not.
I think many people are convinced that unless they are struggling to walk because of DOMS, they haven’t completed a good workout. They worry that their muscles aren’t going to grow, or their fat loss will stall.
That is SO untrue. While I concede to my clients’ wishes to make them sore for the first few weeks, I simultaneously try to educate them. It’s easy to pound a client into the ground with a super intense session, but it’s not necessarily the best idea. Collapsing on the floor between every set is extremely taxing on the body and not something you should do week after week.
Most people will feel sore after almost every workout for the first year or so that they lift weights. Over time, however, it will become more and more challenging to obtain that same level of soreness.
When I first started lifting, my trainer had me doing two leg days a week and we actually had to change my program because I needed at least five days to recover. I spent three-quarters of that year limping around like I’d been in an accident.
My chest used to be in so much pain that I couldn’t hold my handbag over my shoulder. After completing a shoulder workout, I couldn’t lift my arms for about two days. I would flinch if you touched my biceps, and my back was even more knotted up than usual.
Now? I can’t even remember the last time I felt workout-induced pain in my shoulders, arms or back. Occasionally I feel a little sore in my chest, but only if I purposely stretch the muscles. My leg workouts still get me every time, but the source of the pain has moved – it’s now my adductors and glutes which seem most tender. I rarely feel pain in my hamstrings, and ache in my quads even less frequently.
Yet my muscles have continued to grow, probably more so than they did when I was a walking bruise. I never worry about a lack of soreness. I know immediately whether I have given a session my all or not, and I don’t need muscle soreness to dictate whether my workout was good or bad.
All of the top bodybuilders have openly stated that they rarely feel sore after working out anymore. After a certain number of years of weight training, your body will adapt to the demands placed on it – no matter how you vary the exercises, reps or intensity. Yet you would never doubt that these guys aren’t continuing to build muscle in the off-season, or lose fat during their contest prep.
A person could complete 200 reps of bicep curls with 3lb weights Tracy Anderson-style and feel sore the next day, but they did not get a better workout than someone who completed a maximal deadlift session and felt no pain.
Do you use DOMS as an indicator of a good workout?