DOMS Prevention & Treatment

In this article, I’m going to cover a few simple things you can do to help prevent the dreaded Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) as much as possible. If it can’t be avoided completely, I’m also going to offer you a few tools to alleviate it.


What Causes DOMS?

As usual, I’ll keep it pretty damn basic. The eccentric (or negative) portion of the movement (i.e. lowering the barbell to your chest on the bench press or dropping into the ‘hole’ on a squat) lengthens the muscle and causes damage, which can result in acute soreness and/or delayed soreness. Acute soreness happens during or right after training. DOMS can occur hours or days after training, but it’s usually worst in the 24 – 72 hour range. It usually won’t last longer than a week, even if you don’t really do anything to actively combat it.

This is not bad, because you need to inflict microtrauma on muscle tissue to force the muscle into repairing itself . The question is simply how much damage do you need to cause in one training session to force your body to adapt and grow more muscle without creating so much soreness that you can barely move a day or two after lifting.


How Much Volume is Needed?

This will vary so much that a blanket statement is impossible. The only people you can really make somewhat of a blanket statement for are beginners to resistance training. Generally, programs like Starting Strength will benefit beginners because the most important barbell lifts are used, frequency is high, intensity (% of one repetition maximum) is high and volume is fairly low. Why does low volume make sense for a beginner? Because they’re adapted to no volume, so even a low amount of training volume will signal to the body, “Hey, grow some muscle! You’re going to need it.” Frequency will be a much more important factor.

For intermediate and advanced lifters especially, the amount of volume will depend on the end goal and what you’re currently adapted to (incredibly important).

An example: If your primary goal is strength, you’re currently using low volume and your lifts are continuously improving, it makes absolutely no sense to throw a ton of extra volume into your routine from one week to the next. Can it benefit you to increase your volume over time using a sensible scheme to do so? Of course! It could help you build more muscle, which can translate to stronger lifts.

But what if you’re a powerlifter looking to stay in a certain weight class? That would mean you’re probably eating to maintain your weight, leaving little room for error with your training. In this scenario, it doesn’t make sense to really increase volume beyond what is needed to increase strength at an acceptable level to you.

I could proceed to go into all sorts of scenarios where volume needs to be increased more or less, but this article isn’t about that. So, on a very basic level, the amount of volume must be chosen by you based on what you’re adapted to already and what your end goal is. If you choose to increase it from what you’re currently doing, obviously the potential for DOMS is there. This, to me, means that a smart move would be to increase it slowly over time (and only when you’re eating to grow).


An Example of Increasing Volume

Let’s say you’re running 5/3/1 with the First Set Last setup from Jim Wendler’s new book Beyond 5/3/1 and you’re looking to increase your volume. On a typical training day, you’re currently doing the main lift warmups + 5/3/1 prescribed work sets + First Set Last as your main assistance work + other assistance work (i.e. standing cable crunch on deadlift day). Maybe you chose the multiple first sets last approach, so that is 3×8 extra volume on average coming from the main assistance work.

A stupid thing to do would be to just jump into something crazy like German Volume Training for your main assistance work, which features 10 sets of 10 repetitions. Your main assistance work would now jump from roughly 3×8 (24 total reps) to 10×10 (100 total reps). Obviously the intensity (% of 1RM) would be much lower for 10×10, but the volume would still be sickening and cause you some epic DOMS… if you make it through the workout alive.

A smarter approach would be to ease into main assistance work like the Boring But Big template (described in detail in the Beyond 5/3/1 book, but I’m just using it as a rough example in this article), which features 5 sets of 10 repetitions. So before you were doing First Set Last (Multiple Sets) which comes out to about 3×8 (24 total reps) on average, but you’re looking to increase to 5×10 (50 total reps) at a lower percentage of your training maximum. That’s still double the volume, which is likely more than you need to increase it by immediately, so I would run one or two cycles with 4×10 (40 total reps). Then bump it up to 5×10 for another forced adaptation. The end result will be that you’ll experience some DOMS from increasing your volume, but it won’t be so bad that you don’t want to get out of bed.

This type of approach works well to make your body adapt to more volume, but not completely annihilate it. Remember that volume is an important training variable that can be increased over time for great benefits, but intensity and frequency are also extremely important factors to consider when designing a training program.


Mobility Work to Help Prevent DOMS

Now that you know a gradual increase of volume over time will aid in making DOMS more manageable as opposed to increasing it quickly, I’m going to tell you about another easy thing you can do immediately after your workout with weights to decrease the chance of getting severe delayed onset muscle soreness.

A nice bonus about the type of mobility work shown is that it will also improve your explosiveness, along with making you more flexible and thus more durable as an athlete!

The first video is specifically for hip mobility, which is crucial for so many movements that no one who lifts should neglect it. I started doing these exercises right after squat and deadlift workouts a couple months back, mainly to improve my flexiblity and explosiveness, but I soon noticed a decrease in the amount of DOMS I was getting as a result. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but based on bro science it works and I’d recommend at least trying it out.

Personally, my most punishing bouts of DOMS have been in the lower body, so I can’t really recommend something I’ve tried personally to reduce upper body soreness with dynamic mobility work done immediately post-workout, but below are a few exercises that are great for upper body mobility and explosiveness, so I could see them having similar carryover to preventing delayed onset muscle soreness in the upper body.


Active Recovery to Alleviate DOMS

I already did a full article on active recovery here, so I won’t go into much detail in this one. It’s definitely a very potent tool for getting rid of DOMS. I can’t really think of a better way actually. The things covered are going for walks, massage, self myofascial release (basically massaging yourself), yoga and corrective stretching.


Other Ways to Recover from DOMS

Eat well (read my nutrition 101 article). Sleep enough and sleep well. Elliott Hulse describes some important factors on getting quality sleep here.


That’s about it. I hope that helps some people! As always, it’s just my opinion on the matter.