Summer is just around the corner, and many people use the nice sunny weather to get out and enjoy some time in the garden, a longer walk, or perhaps take on new hobby, such as tennis or swimming. As an Exercise Physiologist, one part of my role is to help people become more active! However, when activity increases, you might experience some tightness or discomfort in your muscles – and don't worry if you have experienced this...you are not alone!
You may have seen in my last blog I mentioned a common side-effect to increased activity known as ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’ (or ‘DOMS’ for short). In today’s blog, I wanted to expand a little more about what exactly DOMS is and why you might be experiencing it.
What is it?
It’s all in the name - ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’ is exactly that; it’s the discomfort or pain you can experience in your muscles, anywhere between 12 to 72 hours after an activity or exercise session.
We often associate any pain we experience with injury. Now although sometimes this is indeed a correct association, we now know that pain does not always represent tissue damage! Pain is a complex sensation that can vary dependant on our mood, environment and much much more. (More on pain in another blog!)
DOMS is a little different. Although it can definately be pretty painful..it's not an injury per se. When we use our muscles, especially when they are under an increased load (such as a using a heavier weight in the gym or spending that extra hour in the garden), the microscopic fibres of the muscle can tear. Now I appreciate that this sounds bad, but there is nothing to worry about! These small tears, or ‘microtrauma’ caused to the muscles is on a very small-scale; we all have anywhere between 100,000 to 400,000 fibres in a single muscle, and DOMS may only affect up to 1% of them!
Why do I get it?
There can be a few reasons why you might be experiencing DOMS:
- You’re working too hard!
If you’re consistently going to the gym or tending to the garden for long periods of time, and after every session you’re feeling the effect of DOMS, then listen to your body! You may need more rest time between sessions, or you could be lifting a weight that is too heavy or inappropriate for you. It’s important to ensure proper warm-up and cool downs with every session as well, and allow plenty of rest between rigorous days of physical labour or exercise.
- Too much variety!
Variety is the spice of life – but when it comes to exercising, we don't typically recommend changing the loads or movements you are doing every single session. The only way we can become stronger or fitter is to allow our bodies an opportunity to adapt - too many different exercises won’t give your body a chance to familiarise itself with those movements! A good plan should focus on key muscle groups (or specific areas you are looking to improve) and then sticking with them, until you definitely know you can’t improve on them anymore.
- It’s a new thing!
DOMS is a common occurrence because everyone has exercised at some point in their life! If you’re undertaking a new sport, starting at the gym for the first time, or decided to take up running, all of these can result in DOMS – even gardening! Whenever the body is exposed to a new experience involving movement, there is a good chance you’ll get DOMS – it’s unavoidable but also natural!
But DOMS is a great feedback tool that you can use to ensure you’re on the right track. If you’ve just started at the gym, and the exercises you’re doing are appropriate for you, then the DOMS effect should only occur after the first few sessions – if you don’t feel the DOMS effect anymore, then your body has become stronger and your muscles are well on their way to adapting to the new program which is a win!
I hope this has clarified why sometimes we all get those achey sore muscles. I hope todays blog is reassuring more than anything else! DOMS is a natural part of the getting stronger and fitter process, and does NOT mean you are injured.
However, if you have any questions or remain worried about some of the soreness you experience, the best thing you can do is seek the help of an Allied Health Professional, such as an Exercise Physiologist (like myself!)
Feel free to reach out to us at BJC Health, and we’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.