Sore from working out? What does your soreness really mean?

Ever wonder if the post-exercise soreness is an indicator of a good workout or a sign you overdid it? 

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

The soreness you feel after a workout is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS for short. While discomfort is the most noticeable characteristic of DOMS, reduced range of motion, joint stiffness, and diminished muscle strength are also common. For some, DOMS is immediate and lasts for days, while for others, the discomfort appears one to two days after a workout and is short-lived. 

Some believe DOMS is caused by a lactic acid build-up in the body, but this is not true. Lactate is a by-product of muscle metabolism and is usually cleared from the body within one hour of the workout ending. But you do cause tiny tears in your muscles when you exercise. These tears are the very things that cause the muscles to repair themselves, which leads to your gains! 

Factors That Cause DOMS

While the amount of tearing does depend on the workload and intensity of your workout, there are many other factors that contribute to the amount of soreness (and its timing) you may or may not experience. Genetics, hydration, cumulative movement, and warm-up and cool-down activities all play a part in whether or not you’re in pain. Let’s discuss that a little more.

Genetics play a big part in whether you feel DOMS. Some people are no- or low-responders, while others are high-responders to the effects of muscle conditioning. There’s nothing you can do about that. For example: Two similarly trained women lifting the same amount of weight during an exercise will feel soreness at a different level the following days if one is a high-responder and the other a low.

Hydration during and after a workout session can also affect the amount of soreness you feel. Drinking water before, during, and after a workout will help. You also might experiment with an electrolyte replacement if you’re planning a more intense or longer workout. 

How to Help Reduce DOMS

For years, we thought that static stretching (holding a stretch for 30 seconds or more) pre- and post- workout would eliminate DOMS. Sadly, it’s just not true. Research shows that including a proper warm-up and cool down can help prepare the muscles for the work ahead.

Ultimately, soreness is not an effective way to measure your workout. Instead of placing importance on soreness—or a lack thereof—focus on how a workout makes you feel in the moment and once you’re done. Set goals based on performance improvement versus the amount of muscle relief cream you go through!