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Characterised by muscle pain and stiffness that typically arises 24 to 72 hours post-exercise, DOMS has often been considered an indicator of an effective workout. However, recent evidence suggests that the relationship between DOMS and subsequent muscle growth or strength gains is more nuanced than first thought.

Mechanisms Behind DOMS

DOMS results from microtrauma to muscle fibres caused by eccentric and high-intensity exercises. This microtrauma triggers an inflammatory response, leading to the sensation of soreness. Key mechanisms include:

  • Mechanical Damage – eccentric contractions, where muscles lengthen under tension, cause microscopic tears in muscle fibres. 
  • Inflammatory Response – the body responds to muscle damage with an inflammatory process, involving the migration of immune cells to the damaged tissue, which contributes to soreness. 
  • Edema and Fluid Shifts – accumulation of fluid in the muscle tissues can increase pressure and cause discomfort.

DOMS is most pronounced when the musculoskeletal system is presented with a novel stimulus from exercise training. This is why beginners, and those coming back to training after a long break, often experience significant DOMS after their first few workouts. Generally, DOMS may become evident 6-8 hours after high intensity exercise, and it peaks approximately 48 hours postexercise. However, the time course and extent of DOMS is highly variable and may be impacted by factors such as exercise intensity, training status, and genetics.

Is DOMS Linked to Gains?

The purported link between DOMS and muscle growth comes from the fact that DOMS may be related to exercise induced muscle damage which is proposed to be a mechanism of muscle hypertrophy. However, results from recent studies suggest reasons for scepticism when it comes to drawing this relationship. 

Firstly, it is debatable whether DOMS is an accurate measure of muscle damage, and recent evidence has also suggested that muscle damage may only be a weak contributor to muscle hypertrophy compared to other mechanisms (Wackerhage et al., 2019). 

Secondly, although all muscles experience growth, individuals typically experience more DOMS from certain muscle groups such as the quadriceps and hamstrings compared to other muscle groups such as the deltoids, and this is supported by evidence in the literature (Sikorski et al., 2013). Since certain muscle groups are less prone to DOMS but still experience hypertrophy, this suggests that DOMS may not be linked to muscle hypertrophy. 

Studies have also reported the presence of DOMS following long-distance running, indicating that it doesn’t just occur during resistance training (Tee et al., 2007). This also further reinforces that DOMS is not a good indicator of muscle growth since running causes minimal hypertrophy.

Additionally, too much soreness may negatively impact subsequent workouts. Training with DOMS may reduce muscle activation and force capacity of the desired muscle, and it may also interfere with the recovery process, thus potentially hindering long-term muscle growth.

How to Reduce/Prevent DOMS

When beginning a new exercise programme, slowly progressing into your training is key for preventing excessive DOMS. The first week or two can be seen as a “prep phase”, where the volume (total sets and reps) is lower and proper technique is the priority. This gives the muscles time to acclimate to the new stimulus, preventing excessive DOMS, and leaving room for adaptation in the following weeks as the volume and/or intensity increases.

Foam rolling is another strategy that may help reduce and prevent DOMS. Recent evidence indicates that incorporating a 20 min foam rolling routine immediately after intense training, and every 24 hours thereafter, may reduce DOMS and reduce significant decrements in performance (Pearcey et al., 2015).

Active recovery methods such as light cardio may help to alleviate symptoms of DOMS through enhancing blood flow to the muscle tissue, thus aiding in the removal of metabolic waste and fatigue inducing metabolites (Dupuy et al., 2018). Aim to perform 30-60 mins of active recovery on rest days, especially when DOMS is severe.

Take Home Message

Despite what some may believe, DOMS is not indicative of a good workout, or increased muscle and strength gain. In fact, high degrees of soreness indicates that you may have exceeded the capacity for the muscle to efficiently undergo repair. Likewise, the absence of DOMS does not mean that you’re not training hard enough in your sessions. 

DOMS can be more pronounced depending on the exercise and muscle groups being worked, especially exercises which involve a high degree of stretch or eccentric overload such as Romanian deadlifts. Additionally, high volume training involving sets of 10+ reps may also lead to more soreness.

Overall, moderate DOMS is something that will typically become less prevalent over time as you train more frequently and your body begins to adapt. Aiming for high levels of soreness from your workouts is not advised and this will only impede your recovery as well as your performance in subsequent training sessions.


Wackerhage, H., Schoenfeld, B.J., Hamilton, D.L., Lehti, M. and Hulmi, J.J., 2019. Stimuli and sensors that initiate skeletal muscle hypertrophy following resistance exercise. Journal of applied physiology.

Sikorski, E.M., Wilson, J.M., Lowery, R.P., Joy, J.M., Laurent, C.M., Wilson, S.M., Hesson, D., Naimo, M.A., Averbuch, B. and Gilchrist, P., 2013. Changes in perceived recovery status scale following high-volume muscle damaging resistance exercise. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(8), pp.2079-2085.

Tee, J.C., Bosch, A.N. and Lambert, M.I., 2007. Metabolic consequences of exercise-induced muscle damage. Sports medicine, 37, pp.827-836.

Pearcey, G.E., Bradbury-Squires, D.J., Kawamoto, J.E., Drinkwater, E.J., Behm, D.G. and Button, D.C., 2015. Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. Journal of athletic training, 50(1), pp.5-13.

Dupuy, O., Douzi, W., Theurot, D., Bosquet, L. and Dugué, B., 2018. An evidence-based approach for choosing post-exercise recovery techniques to reduce markers of muscle damage, soreness, fatigue, and inflammation: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Frontiers in physiology, 9, p.312968.