Do Sore Muscles Guarantee Size Gains?


Anyone who has tried some form of resistance training for the first time will likely remember a week of struggling to get out of bed, an inability to climb a set of stairs or even a hard time reaching into the cupboard for your favorite cookie!


For some reason there is this overwhelming amount of soreness that makes you feel like you were hit by a freight train!


Not only those who are new to exercise get this feeling though. Even well-trained individuals can experience this soreness after a training bout. So what is it?! Why does it happen?!


Let’s delve into the details. To start, this feeling actually has a name!


Meet Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS for short!


What Is DOMS?
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is a function of inflammation of the connective tissue in the skeletal muscle when it is torn after training.


The effects of delayed onset muscle soreness are shown to be increased through swelling in the muscle tissue, which in turn puts pressure on muscle fibers stimulating pain through nerve receptors.


Causes of DOMS
There are a variety of ways to attain delayed onset muscle soreness! Check it out:


Is DOMS Indicative of a “Good Workout?”
Many people associate delayed onset muscle soreness as a positive sign of having a killer workout that will lead to muscle growth. The research however, begs to differ.


1. Delayed onset muscle soreness could actually inhibit strength and muscle cell growth and has been found to be detrimental to movement patterns.

This makes sense because if you are experiencing a certain degree of muscle soreness, your training performance may be impaired therefore altering muscle protein synthesis post session.


2. An abundance of delayed onset muscle soreness can cause an individual to be susceptible to injury and actually disrupt their ability to follow a given training protocol.


Is DOMS a Valid Measure of Muscular Adaptations?
Studies have shown that delayed onset muscle soreness is absolutely related to exercise induced muscle damage. The problem is that linking post exercise soreness to muscle growth is highly questionable. The connection between delayed onset muscle soreness and muscle gain is weak. This is because individuals can experience signs of delayed onset muscle soreness without any sign of inflammation.


Why does inflammation even matter in terms of growth?
Muscle Cell Swelling is said to be linked to anabolism (growth) and protein synthesis which in turn builds muscle!!!




Schoenfeld & Contreras (2013) explain how cell swelling and delayed onset muscle soreness are not linked, as muscle soreness is found to peak way before swelling occurs in the muscle.


In addition, there is a genetic component in experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness. In some cases, individuals tend to be more prone to soreness in certain muscles where other muscles have no pain at all. This sheds light onto the broken link between delayed onset muscle soreness and muscle gains.


So is soreness a valid indicator of muscular adaptation?



Issues with Drastic DOMS?
When talking drastic delayed onset muscle soreness, an appropriate term is muscular injury! Increased levels of soreness can mean an individual’s muscles have failed to fully recover. Large amounts of damage can impair the ability to consistently train and also have a negative effect on their attitudes toward training.


In other words, holding the mentality that muscle damage is an absolute indicator of growth may lead to injury! This can also negatively impact training motivation and performance.


Despite contrary belief that muscle soreness is indicative of a good workout or muscle gains, it appears that the research would suggest otherwise.


Though temporary soreness can be a completely normal response to a new program or even a hard eccentric based workout, it should not be viewed as superior to completing a workout that does not result in delayed onset muscle soreness.


In an acute sense, delayed onset muscle soreness is arguably not worrisome but when it becomes a chronic occurrence it can pose risks.


Take Home Points:

Soreness is not necessarily indicative of a good workout or increases in muscular development.
Soreness can result in decreased strength, muscle cell growth and impaired movement patterns.
Soreness can affect motivation to train and the frequency of training.
This does not mean to avoid training muscles in lengthened positions nor does it mean not to focus on the eccentric portion of a movement! Just stay within your limit!
Soreness is not the end of the world!



Byrnes WC and Clarkson PM. “Delayed onset muscle soreness and training.” Clin Sports Med 5: 605–614, 1986.

Schoenfeld, B. J., & Contreras, B. (2013). “Is Postexercise Muscle Soreness a Valid Indicator of Muscular Adaptations?” Strength & Conditioning Journal (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins), 35(5), 16-21.



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