Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness

My arms are refusing to bend right now.1 Why, you might ask?

The one on the right, that’s why.

Actually, they do bend. But, Holy Moses, it feel like a thousand steely needles forged in the heart of a thousand suns stabbing a thousand points on my triceps and chest when they do bend. I need to toughen up. I am toughening up, damn it.

All this preposterously disproportionate suffering got me wondering “What causes soreness, anyway?” What the hell is going on in my muscles? Isn’t lactic acid somehow involved? Did I injure myself in some capacity?

Let’s start at the beginning.

‘Preposterously Disproportionate Suffering Because Of 100 Push-Ups On Saturday’ is better known as ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.’2 I thought DOMS was caused by excess lactic acid in the muscles. During strenuous exercise, lactic acid is one of the byproducts of the chemistry which provides muscles with energy and is produced faster than can be removed by the muscle tissues. The excess build-up, I believed, took a few days to fully remove and was what causes soreness. This, as it turns out, is unlikely to be correct.

“Several myths surround the issue of muscle soreness. One misconception is that muscle soreness is due to lactic acid accumulation. It is known, however, that lactic acid is removed from the muscle within 40 to 60 minutes following an intense bout of exercise (muscle soreness usually occurs within a day or two.)”3

Well I’ll be damned. What the hell is the answer then? As it turns out, the exact causes of DOMS are not entirely known.

The strenuous use of skeletal muscles has been documented to cause damage to its own intricate parts, in and around the nanometer scale.4 To begin the healing process, the body triggers the inflammatory response in the damaged areas. This inflammation, it is hypothesized, triggers a process which leads to an increase in the mechanical sensitivity of the pain receptors in said areas. While washing my hair on a normal day, the muscles in my arms would send signals like ‘light pressure’ or ‘some stretching.’ But these past three days, those signals have been stamped over, replaced by ‘preposterously painful pressure,’ or ‘stupendously sharp stretching.’ Or ‘Hey Stupid, stop using your arms.’To finish that theory, it is worth mentioning that this ‘sensitivity-increasing process’ which the pain receptors undergo is believed to take some time. If demonstrated, the fact would fit nicely with the observed delay in the onset of soreness.

At the end of the day, it is worth reminding you, my audience, that the exact details regarding the relationship between damage, inflammation, and soreness are still not understood.5 Sorting through any of the really detailed accounts of the relationship is out of the scope of both this blog and, frankly, this author. My brain almost melted. Seriously. What I leave you with, my audience, is the currently proposed explanation of why we get sore after rigorous exercise. It is probably correct in its major themes, but is subject to revision in its precise detail. Or, at least, that is what the landscape looks like to this humble layman.

Thanks for reading.


1. My Cheeto finger has healed though!

2. Actually, it was 15 push-ups, collapse from muscular exhaustion, mutter a whole host of bad words, then 85 girl push-ups. Don’t. Judge. Me.

3. Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, by Peter Kokkinos, pg 111, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2010

4. “What has been observed to accompany soreness are ultrastructural disruptions of myofilaments, especially at the Z-disc, as well as damage to the muscle’s connective tissues.” –

5. Ken Nosaka, in Skeletal Muscle Damage and Repair, pg 59, ends his introductory paragraph on soreness with “Although DOMS is an extremely common symptom, its underlying mechanisms are not clearly understood, nor are the reasons for the delay.”


Telomeres And Randy Couture

About six weeks ago, I watched an interview on Fighting Words featuring Randy Couture.

At about 3:20, he starts talking about being subjected to a scientific test, involving something called telomeres, which measured his age on a genetic level. According to him (and his doctor, presumably), the test revealed him to be about 32 years-old. Randy Couture was 46 or 47 years-old at the time of this interview and still, somehow, actively competitive in the heavyweight division of the UFC at its highest levels (or almost).

In the most fleeting and general sense, I had heard the word ‘telomere’ before and knew they were somehow related to aging.1 But what the hell was Couture talking about with this test??? I had to know!

To start from the beginning, and work our way forward from there, a gene is a unit of molecular heredity.2 In your genes is stored the information on how to both make and maintain the cells of which you are composed. Humans have approximately 20,000 genes, all arranged on 23 pairs of chromosomes. Each end of a chromosome is capped with a telomere.3 Why?

“During cell division, enzymes that duplicate DNA cannot continue their duplication all the way to the end of the chromosomes. If the cells divided without telomeres, they would lose the end of their chromosomes, and necessarily the information they contain. The telomeres are the disposable buffers blocking the ends of the chromosomes, [and] are consumed during cell division…”           – Wikipedia

Let me rephrase the fancy-pants talk. Because of the way chromosomes are copied, the end bits get cut off. But remember that chromosomes are groups of genes. The ends can not just be haphazardly hacked off, lest you lose some snippet of important genetic information. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that your ‘Dancing Ability Gene’ reads “Patrick Swayze.”

After a cell division, without telomeres, the last name could get snipped and it could just read “Patrick.”

And while you probably already got the girl, Mr. Dirty Dancing, your children almost assuredly going to suffer from having the dancing ability of a pink, mentally-handicapped (?) starfish. Were this to happen, your lineage will end with your children – I promise you.

Alright, alright, it’s important to preserve genetic information, you get it; but what about Randy Couture?  Well, a telomere is going to become progressively shorter as we continue to age (as our cells continue to make copies of themselves, and snip away at the telomere in the process).

“While telomere shortening has been linked to the aging process, it is not yet known whether shorter telomeres are just a sign of aging – like gray hair – or actually contribute to aging.”  – Lee J. Seigel 4

If a few things were known on the outset of the measurement, finding out someone’s telomere length would give you an idea of how much aging they have done on a cellular level.5

What was the result of his length-measuring test? According to Couture, he, then, had the cellular age of someone approximately 32 years-old. It’s probably glazing over a few too many complications to say he was 32, but I was nevertheless staggered to hear the result. His ability to perform at nearly the highest levels in his middle forties is testament to some fundamental difference between him and everyone else still competing at that age, after all.

Anyway. I was fascinated by what he said (though he did not explain it quite right, if anybody caught that), and thought I’d share it with my audience. Thanks.


1. As I wrote this sentence, it suddenly occurred to me that I remembered where it was that I first heard the word. There’s a video on youtube with a yellow puppet who rants about stupid people/things on youtube. He was ranting about the loathsome Ben Stein, here. Actually, it was a rant about the inane Ray Comfort. But the rant was a little racier, so I leave it up to my audience to look it up.

2. Please forgive the nebulous-sounding definition. There are exceptions to almost everything in biology. Presumably, this is the best way to capture what it is that a gene does without getting caught up in the exceptions.

3. They are aptly named, as I found out. Telos, τέλοϛ, is from the Greek, meaning ‘end.’


5.  I’m speaking speculatively here. But my guess is it would be something like driving somewhere. If you knew ‘how fast you were going,’ ‘for how long you have been driving,’ and ‘the distance between the point of departure and the destination,’ then I could tell you where you were supposed to be at any given time.


Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action

And The Dunning-Kruger Effect.

I spent a few hours today cleaning house. While alphabetically arranging the “Non-BJJ” DVD category, I started listening to and sorta watching Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action videos from 1988. Rorion’s Brazilian accent and the dull thud of Royce’s punches raining down on a triangled-and-mounted Jason DeLucia filled the living room. It occurred to me then, for the first time, that the man being punched in the face was guilty of cognitive bias – one I frequently encounter while furthering some of my other interests.

Research done at Cornell University suggests that people are not the best judge of what they might otherwise purport to know, or what they might purport to be able to do.1 That sounds counter-intuitive though, doesn’t it? But it’s true. Just ask Billy Madison.2 “Except that the puppy was a dog. But the industry my friends, that was a revolution.” – BM

More seriously, illusory superiority can, and does, thwart our very real and well-intentioned efforts to objectively appraise our own ability. I mean, wouldn’t you agree that everyone who fought against The Gracies thought that they knew how to fight? One of these fighters even claimed to have developed a ‘street lethal’ style, if you remember. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. To start us off, and to avoid a potential (and obvious) hypocrisy, I submit the following quotation:

“…[T]he Dunning-Kruger Effect, named for the psychologist who first formally documented it…refers to the tendency for relatively inexperienced people to overestimate their proficiency in a given topic, usually to their detriment: A young driver overestimates their ability to navigate in traffic; a new pilot takes inappropriate risks in landing because they can’t accurately assess their capabilities; and a freshman college students often believes they have mastery in a field based on a single class. As experience progresses through mistake and correction, additional education, the initiate begins to understand the limits of their knowledge or experience. They become more cautious, more conservative, and more willing to adjust to new information. Part of education is to teach us how much more we have to learn.”3 – C0nc0rdance, YouTube user and scientist.

It is a demonstrable fact, in scientific literature, that people consistently fail at honest self-evaluation. But what about outside the so-called Ivory Tower of Science?4 “I know what I am and am not capable of,” a person might scoff – as undoubtedly at least one reader of this article did. More often than not, the holder of that opinion is simply wrong. In fact, everyone can, on some level, vouch to the truth of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Hasn’t everyone had a conversation with some grand old idiot, some Endless Opiner, some person ignorant of both the subject matter at hand and just how deep their ignorance actually runs? Hasn’t everyone said, at one point in their life, to someone else: “You don’t even know what you’re talking about,” or “You don’t even know what you don’t know.” And on another level, I think everyone can further vouch to having been on the other side of this coin.5

I have no doubt that all these people who accepted The Gracie Challenge legitimately thought they knew how to fight. And they were mistaken, objectively so. These days we know that being a complete fighter necessarily entails an understanding of grappling.6

So if you take away anything from this entry, let it be that we have a tendency to view ourselves through rose-tinted glasses. If you are to take a second thing, let it be that “Knibb High football rules!”


2.  The scenario in the movie may or may not be different, but the point still stands.

4.  Heavy air-quotes.

5.  If I wrote down all the times I spoke when I should have just been listening, the list would be longer than the exhaustive list of Chuck Norris jokes found on the Internet. But I’d like to imagine that the times are decreasing in frequency as I increase in age. I’d like to imagine, anyway.

6.  Amusingly enough, people of the bottom and second quartile can still be found on the Internet (surprise surprise). Peruse some of the comment battles on YouTube videos for The Gracie in Action videos to see for yourself.