Tone It Up Tuesday #9 – DOMS and Why We Rest

A late post for you on this Tuesday before Christmas. There are only 8 days left in this year and I will only have two more posts after this one before the new year hits. This is my 98th post this year and I want to finish on 100…plus, it’s the holidays people! Expect my last post of the year next Wednesday and who knows when the other will fall. After that we’ll be back to the predictable schedule.

I just finished my push-ups for today and I can tell that I’ve been doing them A LOT lately. My body is telling me that I need a rest….and not just from the push-ups.

Many of us find that this week is the start of the end in many ways. The end of the holidays, the end of our year, the end of our sanity. But, let’s stay committed to what we’ve started here. Let’s stick with those January resolutions that are now almost a year old. More from me about that next Wednesday, but for today, let’s stick with what we started just last week. If you’ve been sticking to your new pillar of strength you should be half way through our first challenge and you’re probably feeling what I do….some tightness the next day and a resistance to do it again the day after that. Welcome to DOMS! If you’ve never been here before, we welcome you. And if you’ve been through DOMS many a time, I literally feel your pain.

DOMS is the fitness world’s fancy acronym for Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness that happens somewhere around 24-48 hours after a workout. This is not the same as the fatigue you should feel at the end of a workout. A few real quick notes on that:

So, if you’re doing resistance training correctly, for whatever your goal is, you should fatigue at the end of your last set. Then, about 24-48 hours later you’re going to feel sore and stiff and like you really don’t want to do that again. Hello DOMS! But DOMS should go away. If the pain doesn’t go away after that 48 hour mark, you may want to consult a medical professional to make sure that you’ve not injured yourself. Remember, the goal is not to over-do it in one session and then not do anything again for a week. DOMS is an important part of the Super Compensation Cycle that we’ll talk about in a moment and it is your signal to REST the muscle or muscle groups that you have recently worked.

This is a big question I get asked a lot of the time and is something that is driving a change to my training plan come January 1 (more about that next Wednesday).  There is such a thing as a crucial rest interval between training sessions and I couldn’t decide which of these two graphics I liked better for explaining it, so you can review them both as I interpret.

This first chart shows us a few differences that are important in its different colored lines. Note that if your workout is too easy your gains are less than in an optimum workout. If your workout is too hard (No pain; No gain mentality or More is Better) you don’t see any gains at all. This is important for two reasons. The first is what we talked about some above in that you should be feeling fatigue at the end of your last set to see gains in your workout. If you’re working out too light you will stay at a plateau for a very long time and exercise may become frustrating to you. It’s hard to reach your goals if you don’t put in the effort to do so. Secondly, if you’re pushing too hard you’re going to go backwards. The body can only take so much and you may be doing real damage to it. This is the problem many people have when they first start an exercise program and go all out. EASE into it people! You didn’t get “out of shape” in one week, so what makes you think you can get “back in shape” that quickly?

So, what you may be losing in looking at the first image is what is more clearly displayed here. Each time you start a training session you are at what is called the “Initial level of performance ability” or your baseline for that day. As you workout you are basically tearing down the muscle, using up it’s energy, and forcing it to need to REST and RECOVER…a little R&R if you will. As it does so, the muscle adapts to the stress it was put under during your training session and becomes stronger and more able to handle challenges you throw at it. This happens over the course of 2-3 days and the body has created a new baseline or has “Supercompensated” based on the challenge it was met with at your last training session. If you plan your next training session within 48-72 hours of your previous session you will again tax that muscle accordingly and repeat the cycle, thus forcing the muscle to supercompensate AGAIN and get EVEN STRONGER! However, if you wait more than 3 days between training sessions, then the muscle gets used to the idea of sitting around and starts to return to its initial levels.

That end part there is the training principle of Reversibility; or more plainly stated: Use it or Lose it. Thus, rest is important, but too much rest means that we lose the gains we made. This is why I have suggested the alternate day method for our current fitness challenge. 


What is your experience with DOMS?
How often do you do resistance training?
Do you truly go to fatigue each session?
Have you ever had a “Lost it” moment?