Soreness after working out: is it good or bad, and what is it all about?

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)  typically occurs 12 – 24 post workout and depending on the severity, can last anywhere from 2 – 5 days, and even longer in some cases. 

Symptoms include, tenderness, tight muscles, muscle fatigue and decreased performance.

What causes DOMS? Exercise can cause microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. Your body responds to this damage by increasing inflammation, which may lead to a delayed onset of soreness in the muscles. DOMS typically occurs when you subject your body to a stimulus that it is not used to.

Is DOMS good or bad, and do you need to worry about it?

As a beginner, infrequent exerciser, or someone who has recently taken some time off, if you are feeling a little sore, no need to worry. As your body becomes more accustomed to the demands that you are placing on it, the soreness will decrease and you will be able to train harder and more frequently without soreness. If you are extremely sore, try to build up your intensity more gradually, which will allow you to train more frequently with less post workout soreness.

Chronic soreness, workout after workout is your body telling you that you are not recovering adequately. Why can this be? There are various reasons. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to optimize your recovery: Am I sleeping at least 7 hours each night? Am I eating enough nutrient dense food? Does my protein intake meet my goals? Am I chronically stressed? Am I doing active recovery? Listen to your body, if you are feeling beat up workout after workout, look into optimizing your recovery.  

Exposing the body to changing demands, may result in DOMS. Constantly changing your exercise selection will likely cause some post workout soreness. Although variety is good, changing your exercises every workout is not advisable if you want to make progress. This is due to the inability to apply progressive overload to an exercise from week to week. Try instead, programming a selection of exercises for 4 – 6 weeks, try to progress whenever possible, and then after the training block is completed, feel free to mix things up and go again.

DOMS is not a metric for a good workout, nor does it pre determine progression in the gym. It simply tells you that you have subjected your body to a demand that it is not used to. So while some acute soreness is not a bad thing, it isn’t necessarily a good thing either. 

So are DOMS good or bad? Well, neither. It depends on severity, frequency of occurrence and why they are occurring. Use DOMS as a feedback mechanism to provide you valuable information about your recovery and current conditioning level.