Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS): A Tax on Exercise

The after effects of an intense Met Con and Tabata session yesterday has brought me to the idea of writing a blog post on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). I would bet the world that at least one person reading this post is suffering with DOMS at this present moment in time and the majority of us have experienced DOMS at some stage of our lives.

There is a lot of information out there about DOMS but many people don’t fully understand what is actually going on in the body post workout. DOMS is a natural phenomom that occurs after an exercise bout. It causes damage to the muscle fibres and is brought about by strenuous exercise, particularly a high load of eccentric (lowering phase of an exercise) muscle contractions.  It is an acute effect and can be felt anything from 24-72 hours post workout. DOMS can cause both mild to severe discomfort throughout the body depending on the intensity of your training session and how your body reacts to exercise. Below is an image of a muscle fibre, the image on the left is affected by DOMS and the image on the right is the same muscle fibre prior to physical activity.


Being physically active increases cognitive function which leads to an increase in productivity in the workplace. But as with anything there is a side effect or what I would refer to as a tax. Can DOMS be seen as a tax on exercise? Exercise causes endorphins to be released within the body which is why we feel like we can take on the world post workout. Our cognitive function increases which will have a direct impact on workplace performance as well as energy levels to execute tasks. Unfortunately there is a catch, DOMS sets in and we feel sore after completing the activity. We might not experience DOMS until the second day after doing a session and at times we may find that if we repeat the same session a few days later we don’t suffer as bad with DOMS. This is as a result of the muscles adapting quickly to the stress caused or what is known as the Repeated Bout Effect (RBE). RBE is whereby the muscle ‘remembers’ the stress caused from the first workout so more immune cells are recruited so a stronger response to the exercise stimulus is afforded leading to a reduction in DOMS from the same exercise stimulus. (2)

So this brings me to the question that I often get asked by clients, “how do I reduce DOMS?” Whenever we start a new programme we should ease our way into it so that the body can progressively adapt to the exercise stimulus. Foam rolling is believed to be a method to help reduce DOMS however more research on its effectiveness is required before a definitive conclusion can be drawn on its effectiveness (3). The performance benefits associated with caffeine supplementation for the endurance athlete are well documented and it is know to improve endurance performance while also increasing alertness. Further research carried out on short term caffeine supplementation indicates that it may decrease overall muscle soreness (4). Omega 3 fatty acids (good fats) found predominantly in avocados, fish and nuts have also been shown to reduce the effects of DOMS (5). Turmeric/curcumin, an Indian spice, which most people have in their cupboards has anti-inflammatory properties which contribute to reducing DOMS also (6)

In conclusion we all know and have experienced DOMS at some stage. Do we accept that DOMS are inevitably going to happen depending on how hard we push ourselves in our training? There is research that suggests we can combat and reduce the effect of DOMS to a certain degree with foam rolling or adding caffeine, omega 3 and turmeric into your diet. You can try these methods out and see if they help reduce DOMS after a strenuous training session.Do we accept that the effect of DOMS is inevitable and a sign of a good session or do you share my view that DOMS can be seen as nature’s tax on exercise? Whatever you decide you can be assured that you will experience DOMS at some stage over the course of your training programme, enjoy!