Does soreness mean muscle growth?
Does soreness mean muscle growth?
When we lift weights we get what is known as DOMS–delayed onset muscle soreness. Lifting can lead to microscopic tears in connective tissues and the inside of our muscles. The microscopic tears lead to sensitizing in our nociceptors which then in turn leads to a heightening position of pain and discomfort throughout the body. When these microscopic tears occur, the body releases noxious chemicals known as prostaglandins and histamines. The prostaglandins and histamines are released upon our afferent (signals sent from muscles to the brain) nerve endings which leads to further discomfort. So when the afferent nerve endings are hit, the brain is triggered with more pain. And that folks are exactly what delayed muscle soreness is.
There are a few different reasons why DOMS occurs inside of training. Doing new movements inside training triggers the body. The new movements triggering the body lead to possible microscopic tears. The other aspect is that if the body is not used to certain rep ranges, extra reps could also lead to some extra delayed onset muscle soreness.
Think about doing an exercise that is done all the time. Me, I spent two years doing a front squat every day. I never got sore because my body adapted to that specific movement. Something like an overhead split squat, which I don’t do that often, will probably lead to me getting more sore in my hips and upper back.
Eccentric movements and concentric movements can both lead to DOMS. Think of an eccentric movement as lowering the weight when doing a bench press, lowering the body in a pull-up, or lowering the body when doing a back squat. The concentric movement is pressing the barbell away from the body in a bench press, pulling the body to the bar in a pull-up, or standing up a squat. Doing a slow eccentric movement and then a concentric movement will typically lead to delayed onset muscle soreness from the slow eccentric.
There is some conflicting research. A lot of research in the ’90s, 00s, and the '10s even, was the slow eccentric work where we saw muscle tears or muscle breakdowns. There is some conflicting work now that says it can also occur during concentric work. Anecdotally, I typically see that when a slow eccentric is done athletes get sorer than if they are doing a higher speed eccentric. If you are looking to achieve some DOMS because liking the feeling of being sore, try some 6 to 10-second eccentric patterning which will lead to a large amount of strength but also soreness.
Cell swelling is another potential mechanism by which muscle damage can occur. So when we do high rep sets, muscles might be accompanied by an excess amount of proteins that accumulate inside of the muscle or myofiber. Cell swelling leads to tissue edema as Schoenfeld has pointed out in a couple of different research articles. In turn, the tissue edema leads to a type of cellular regulation based on the body’s overall cell swelling, thus another factor that can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness. This is similar to getting the pump. When you get the pump, there is a large amount of fluid inside of the muscle fiber and muscle cells which can alter the way the cells are working and lead to some sense of pain or discomfort.
Cell swelling can lead to a type of anabolism. It can lead to a decrease in protein degradation and an increase in muscle protein synthesis.
Is It Necessary To Be Sore?
Muscle hypertrophy, which is essentially just getting swole, can occur from three different things. It will occur from mechanical tension (a load on the muscles), metabolic stress, and actual muscle damage. In regards to hypertrophy or getting swole, and the lens of DOMS occurring through new movements or movements that are confusing, a specific type of muscle damage can occur because the body is confused and not used to doing the movement. That muscle damage can then in turn lead to a form of hypertrophy.
Many athletes in weightlifting don’t get sore per se. They’re constantly doing movements like snatches, cleans, jerks, squats, and pulls. They still don’t get that sore. Yes, they are fatigued, but they never are having the soreness that can be achieved in the pecs from an 80/60 drop set in the bench press. Weightlifters don’t feel that. It is mechanical tension that is the mechanism that leads to their gains in muscle mass, and their gains in hypertrophy. Meaning athletes don’t have to get sore, but athletes can still get swole from the mechanical tension. Better yet, athletes can gain strength because their neurological firing is improving when performing the difficult exercises of snatches and cleans.
So is it horrible when the body gets sore? Will it negate the gains?
Want to get sore? Use crazy movements with extreme rep ranges. Don’t want to get sore? Use familiar exercises with similar rep ranges that you are used to as well as similar rest periods. The body won’t be sore but the body will still have mechanical loading which will lead to that overall muscular hypertrophy.
In reality, soreness needs more research on its impact on muscular hypertrophy. We also need more research on what can happen when soreness occurs but specific recovery tools are used to decrease the muscular soreness by reaping the muscular gains. This might mean increasing carb intake, protein intake, doing extra mobility, doing yoga, doing meditation, taking an ice bath, or spending time in the sauna. They are all things that can alleviate soreness but still increase muscular gains.
At the end of the day, soreness is part of all the training taking place. It is a side effect of all that hard work. But!!! It can also be a result of poor mobility and poor recovery. Regardless, put the work in, mediate the soreness, have recovery on point, get the nutrients, and cultivate your power to become a freak.
Yo, It's Dane
Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!
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