Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS is the muscle soreness most people start feeling 12-24 hours after a workout. During your workout, the burn you feel is caused by buildup of lactate, generated by anaerobic energy systems in your body which supply your muscles with energy (ATP).

DOMS however, is not caused by lactate. Instead, it is caused by micro damage in your muscles, especially after weight training, sprints, plyometrics etc. Physiologists used to believe the remaining lactate created the soreness but now we know better.

Even though the muscle soreness is welcomed by many people (it reassures them they had a good workout), it is not an indicator for a good workout. Athletes at higher levels don't get very sore after workouts, even though they trained very hard. It depends on the workout, your physical condition etc. Beginners will experience DOMS frequently until they reach a higher treshold.

If you know your body or your work out frequently, you will know the difference between soreness and an injury. If you feel an injury, immediately have it checked out and act accordingly. If it is soreness, it may last up to 3 days after your workout. If it lasts longer than 3 days or it limits you in normal day to day activities, you probably pushed yourself too hard in that workout.

A frequent question I get is whether you should work out the same muscles when you experience soreness. If the soreness is mild, go ahead and work out but know your limits. You do not have to train until exhaustion or failure every session! You need to shock your body and challenge it so you improve but that does not mean you should push your body to the limit every time.

When the soreness is significant, do not work out those muscle groups. If you do, you may risk overtraining and landing in a catabolic state. At that point, there is no progress to be made, the only thing that can be done is resting so try not to get to that point.

There are a few things you can do to reduce the soreness:

- Stretching when you are warmed up, preferably after your workout. Stretching will improve blood flow and you should stretch anyway to retain your range of movement.

- Cardio will also increase blood flow so there is better transport of nutrients, oxygen, waste etc. A short cardio session with low to medium intensity after your workout is ideal.

- Massages are great for reducing and preventing muscle soreness. It removes waste products from your muscles and increases delivery of nutrients and oxygen. 

Even though muscle soreness satisfies us and shows us we trained hard, it is not necessary. You have to train hard but don't worry if you don't have sore muscles after a workout. It just shows your body has gotten stronger. Alternating your workout, using different techniques and switching it up will challenge your body again. Don't do the same workout for 6 months, you will hit a plateau. Make sure you have a lot of variety in your training.

By Sander Vanacker, Define Defense’s certified personal trainer and head martial arts instructor, based in Boulder, Colorado. Take a look at, or check out our videos !

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