This is why sore muscles doesn’t mean you had a quality workout…

Ever shamed yourself for not having a quality workout because you don’t feel suitably sore the next day? Or, on the contrary, claimed full bragging rights because you’re tender from top to toe?

If so, there’s something you should know. 

Those post-workout aches you experience from time to time? They aren’t necessarily a sign you partook in an effective sesh. 

We’ll explain…

What is DOMS?

“DOMS stands for ‘delayed onset muscle soreness’, and is the sensation of discomfort and mild pain you get a day or two following a workout,” says personal trainer Dean Somerset. “It typically feels like stiff, sore or tender-to-the touch muscles, but improves with gentle activity and warm ups.”

DOMS tends to take hold 12-48 hours post-workout, and can last up to 72 hours. However, there’s a common misconception that experiencing aches after training – particularly those which last longer than a day – indicates a quality workout, when that’s just not the case.

DOMS: Why do I have it and is it a sign of a good workout?

“DOMS is typically present when something changes, either you do some new exercises you’re not accustomed to, use a heavier weight or a different volume, or perhaps were in a new situation you weren’t used to, such as hiking in the mountains if you’re used to walking through the city,” says Somerset. “The soreness usually won’t be as severe the next time you do that same workout, which means it’s more of a factor of novelty than an indicator of a good quality workout.” So, just as experiencing DOMS doesn’t indicate a good workout, a lack of it doesn’t suggest your session was sub-par either.

If you experience pain that doesn’t subside after three days your training plan could be flawed. Perhaps poor form, ineffective use of volume (sets, reps, weight and so on), or repeating too many similar movement patterns. The problem? You risk injury and face set-backs when it comes to meeting goals, therefore consulting a qualified trainer is key for creating a fitness plan that works for you.

So, how can you gauge the quality of a workout?

How to track the quality of a workout?

“The first thing needed is to understand what your goals actually are,” says Somerset. “If it’s fat loss, body fat percentage should be moving in the right direction at a reasonable pace. If it’s getting stronger, you should be using more weight on your exercises over time. If it’s to perform better at a certain sport, there are specific metrics each sport uses to gauge performance. Soreness doesn’t indicate progress, even if progress can come in the presence of soreness.”

Try keeping track of your performance by journaling your workouts and results. If it’s fat loss you’re after, note down your starting measurements and body fat percentage (steer clear of overall weight or BMI, neither of which distinguish between bone, muscle, fat, fluid and organs, and so on) and monitor it over the weeks. Similarly, if an increase in strength, speed, endurance or performance is your aim, write down your starting point (your 1 rep max squat, bench or deadlift, fastest kms per minute, and so on), and update every couple of weeks. 

How to reduce DOMS?

If DOMS is detracting from your fit plan, there are a few techniques to reduce feelings of discomfort, such as factoring in rest, taking an ice or epsom salt bath after training, foam rolling and massage therapy. 

“The best options are usually pretty simple,” says Somerset. “Eat good quality food, drink lots of water, do some light activity or gentle stretches, and give it a few days to subside. Usually DOMS will pass within about 1-3 days, so it’s nothing you really need to speed up unless you have a lot of training sessions to get through in a short period of time.”

Written by: Abbi Henderson