• Joshua Li

Is Soreness A Good Indicator Of A Good Workout?


We’ve heard it all before…

“I didn’t get a good workout, my muscles don’t feel sore today”.

OR…

“I had the best workout yesterday!! My legs are so sore I can barely walk!”

It’s a common belief among gym goers that muscle soreness and a quality of a workout exist in a linear relationship. That is, the more sore you get from a workout the better the workout must have been. Is this statement RIGHT OR WRONG? Soreness from a workout is NOT always a sign of a good workout.

What causes DOMS?

Is here any evidence to support the idea that muscle soreness serves as a valid indicator of muscle hypertrophy. A recent article by Brad Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras from the Strength and Conditioning Journal examined exactly this.

The findings show that while “the exact mechanisms are not well understood” the paper suggest that “DOMS (Delayed onset Muscle Soreness) appears to be a product of inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the connective tissue elements that sensitise nociceptors and thereby heighten the sensations of pain.” From there the article goes deep into the biochemistry describing noxious chemicals and different nerve afferents, the likes of which I’m sure you really needn’t concern yourself with if your goal is simply to find out how DOMS relates to your goal of getting fitter, stronger, healthier and looking better naked.

To summarise, let’s just say DOMS appears to occur due to connective tissue micro trauma. It’s also worth mentioning that while most exercise can induce some DOMS, exercise with a greater emphasis on the eccentric phase (the lengthening or stretching phase) plays the most significant role in the manifestation of DOMS.

Does DOMS mean I’ll build more muscle?

In short, No. Though it may enhance it to an extent. So what does in fact cause muscle hypertrophy? The three mechanism for hypertrophy are:

  1. Mechanical Tension

  2. Metabolic Stress

  3. Muscle Damage

For the purpose of our discussion DOMS, we’re most interested in number three, muscle damage as there is a strong correlation between exercise induced muscle damage. Muscle damage is a contributing factor to muscle hypertrophy, though not the only one. However, there is a point of diminishing returns, and extreme muscle soreness can be counterproductive.

First, severe soreness can significantly decrease force-productivity capacity, which will be detrimental to performance subsequent workouts. Secondly, motivation levels can take a hit when you’re hindered by crippling muscle soreness. Neither of these will help build muscle in the long term.

So while you may think that getting sore from training means you get to tick that muscle damage box, DOMS might not necessarily be an accurate indicator of muscle damage anyway. As Schoenfeld and Contreras wrote, “So although DOMS may provide a general indication that some degree of damage to muscle tissue has occurred, it cannot be used as a definitive measure of the phenomenon.” So no, you don’t need to experience muscle soreness after a training session to build muscle, and you probably shouldn’t rely on it as an accurate indicator of productiveness.

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