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DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, is a common physiological response experienced after engaging in physical activities, particularly muscle-strengthening exercises. It’s characterised by muscle soreness, stiffness, and pain that typically occur 24 to 72 hours after an intense workout.

Understanding DOMS

Lets get to understand a phenomenon that all fitness enthusiasts are well-acquainted with DOMS. DOMS is a sign that your fitness is advancing. It happens when you engage in a new or intensive exercise routine, causing micro muscle tears. While it might sound alarming, these microscopic tears are actually a good thing. They stimulate your body to repair and strengthen your muscles, thereby promoting muscle growth. However, unless your goal is to feel sore, you don’t need to experience DOMS after every workout.

What Triggers DOMS?

The primary trigger for DOMS is engaging in physical activities that your body isn’t accustomed to. This could be starting a new exercise routine, increasing the intensity of your workouts, or performing exercises that involve eccentric contraction—where the muscles lengthen while contracting such as in downhill running or long-distance cycling.

Eccentric Exercises and DOMS

Eccentric exercises place a higher amount of stress on your muscles compared to concentric exercises (where muscles shorten during contraction). This increased stress results in more significant muscle damage, leading to heightened DOMS.

Unfamiliar and Intense Exercise

Performing unfamiliar exercises or ramping up the intensity of your workouts also increases the likelihood of experiencing DOMS. When you expose your muscles to new movements or higher levels of stress than they’re used to, it results in greater muscle damage and consequently, more pronounced DOMS.

How Does DOMS Feel?

DOMS is characterised by a dull, aching pain in the affected muscles, often accompanied by tenderness and stiffness. The pain typically starts 12 to 24 hours after the exercise, peaks at around 24 to 72 hours, and subsides within three to five days.

Recognising the Symptoms of DOMS

The symptoms of DOMS can vary depending on the intensity and duration of exercise as well as individual factors such as fitness level and genetics. However, the common symptoms include:

Aching Pain in the Muscles

This is the most common symptom of DOMS and is usually experienced as a deep, aching pain in the muscles that were involved in the exercise.

Increased Sensitivity to Touch or Rubbing

The affected muscles may become tender to touch. You may also feel pain when the muscles are stretched, contracted or put under pressure.

Increased Pain during Muscle Stretching or Flexing

Stretching or flexing the affected muscles may cause discomfort or increase the intensity of the pain.

Throbbing and Tightness in the Muscles

You may experience a sensation of throbbing or tightness in the affected muscles, especially when moving or at rest.

The Science Behind DOMS

DOMS is believed to result from microscopic damage to muscle fibres during exercise. The process of repairing this damage leads to inflammation and swelling in the muscle tissues, which contributes to the pain and stiffness associated with DOMS. Furthermore, this muscle damage triggers a natural healing response in your body, involving inflammation and protein production, which ultimately leads to muscle growth.

Understanding the Role of Inflammation in DOMS

Inflammation is part of your body’s natural response to injury, including the microscopic muscle damage caused by exercise. It helps protect and repair the damaged tissue. However, it also causes pain and discomfort, which are characteristic features of DOMS.

Temporary Muscle Damage: A Key Factor in DOMS

When you engage in strenuous physical activity, especially strength training or high-intensity interval training, it can result in microscopic damage to your muscle fibres. This damage is a key factor in the development of DOMS. However, it’s important to remember that this muscle damage is temporary and is actually beneficial for muscle growth.

Managing DOMS

While there’s no surefire way to completely prevent DOMS, certain strategies can help reduce its severity and improve recovery. These include gradually increasing the intensity of your workouts, warming up before exercising, staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet rich in protein and complex carbohydrates, and getting adequate rest.

Tips for Reducing DOMS Pain

While managing DOMS largely revolves around rest and recovery, there are several techniques to alleviate the pain and discomfort. These include light stretching, using a foam roller for self-massage, taking over-the-counter pain relievers, and applying ice packs or heat pads to the affected areas. Remember to listen to your body and give it the rest it needs.

The Role of Rest and Recovery

Rest and recovery play an essential role in managing DOMS and promoting muscle growth. During rest periods, your body repairs the microscopic damage to the muscle fibers, which not only helps relieve DOMS but also contributes to muscle growth. Therefore, ensure you’re getting enough sleep and taking rest days between intense workout sessions.


DOMS is a common occurrence after engaging in new or intense physical activities. While it can be uncomfortable, it’s a natural part of the muscle-building process. Understanding DOMS and how to manage it can help you stay dedicated on your fitness journey, whether you’re bulking, cutting, or simply trying to improve your overall fitness.

Final Thoughts on DOMS

Remember, fitness is a journey, not a destination. Experiencing DOMS might be frustrating, especially when it hampers your regular workout routine. However, it’s a sign that you’re pushing your body and making progress. With the right strategies and mindset, you can manage DOMS effectively and continue on your path to improved fitness.

Final Words

We hope this comprehensive guide has helped you understand the basics of DOMS. Remember, the journey to fitness is unique for everyone, so take the time to understand your body, set realistic goals, and most importantly, stay consistent. Happy training!

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