What You Need to Know About DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)

by Christine Hronec

A common question when one starts a new training regime is, “why am I gaining weight?!” This is a common phenomenon with any new intensive training regime, and is confusing especially when one is expecting to see the scale tip in the opposite direction. The motivation to start a new exercise program is almost always to lose weight. However, what most trainers and coaches realize, and most beginners do not, is that a new training program often can cause an immediate (and temporary) increase on the scale. (Notice I didn’t say weight gain! I’ll explain.) This common increase in the scale is also the reason why perhaps millions of people start and then quickly quit their resolution to get fit.

The temporary weight gain explained: When someone starts a new exercise program, they often experience muscle soreness. The more intense and “unfamiliar” the program, the more intense the muscle soreness. This soreness is most prevalent 24 to 48 hours after each workout. In the first few weeks of a new program, soreness is the body trying to “protect and defend” the effected or targeted tissue. Exercise physiologists refer to this as delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS.

This type of soreness is thought to be caused by tissue breakdown or microscopic tears in muscle tissue. When this happens the body protects the tissue. The muscle becomes inflamed and slightly swollen with fluid retention. This temporary retention of fluid in women can result in a 1- to 4-pound weight gain within a few weeks of a new program. Keep in mind that muscle soreness is not necessarily a reflection of how hard you worked. In fact, some people feel no signs of muscle soreness, yet will experience the muscle protection mechanisms of water retention and slight swelling.

Most people are motivated enough to put up with this temporary muscle soreness. Yet, many, especially those who really need immediate weight loss to keep them motivated in those first couple of weeks become discouraged and quit! A recent study of 70 test participants in a controlled training regime experienced this phenomenon, and not surprisingly the women in the study were quite upset and discouraged by this temporary effect. This did not last more than 2 weeks before a major drop in the scale was apparent. Working with a knowledgeable nutritionist or trainer is essential for insight as to why these things happen as well as for the added assurances that the weight will come off if you stick to your meal plan and stay true to your program.

For those of you on a customized meal and training regime from Gauge Girl Training, keep in mind that when you start each new phase, your body will be “in shock” again. Don’t be surprised or discouraged if you experience a temporary gain on the scale the first week of each phase.

My own personal example of this is from my marathon running days. While, I no longer train for long distance races, when I did, it was natural for me to be “insanely” sore the next day. It’s also very common for me to see the scale jump 4 pounds the next day from forcing fluids post-race and the resulting DOMS. Even though I know the cause of it, it’s still a bummer. We’re all human and hard work should mean “results”. Hard work equals results, but our bodies are amazing machines and they know how to protect us from hurting ourselves. Soreness forces you to give those muscles a break. Ultimately you will lose the weight and you will change your metabolism in the process. The key is understanding that this is a normal and temporary and to trust the process.

When to be concerned: If you experience a significant weight gain (exceeding 5 pounds) which does not begin to decrease rapidly after the second week, guess what it is??? I’ll give you one hint… you put it in your mouth and chew it. You know it! You’re food (or calorie laden beverages). Newsflash friends, exercise doesn’t make you gain weight. Consuming more food than you burn makes you gain weight!

So if after two weeks you are not losing weight, have gained weight that’s not coming off, it’s time to take a close and honest look at your food intake.

Moral of the story: Be patient young grass hopper. You’ll be lean and mean in no time!

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