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Does Muscle Soreness Imply Muscle Progress?

If you’ve ever tried intense weight training you probably know how painful it is. The next morning, you feel like you woke up in hell instead of your own bed, and you can barely do any normal everyday objects, let alone things like climbing stairs.

There is a myth about this feeling, however – that only people who are out of shape will get the pain when they start exercising. This is wrong, of course – even people who have exercised a few times a week for years experience this type of aches and pains after a heavy exercise. This symptom has a name and is called DOMS, which stands for “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness”.

DOMS is the pain and stiffness felt in your skeletal muscles for several hours to days that are actually damaged during exercise and need to heal the next day or two.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, DOMS symptoms usually appear at least 12 to 24 hours after exercise and are manifested as some swelling of the muscles due to the microcracks that appear during exercise.

There are some ways to get delayed onset muscle soreness, and while many people insist that this is the sign that your workout has been fantastic and your muscles will grow, there is actually credible scientific research going the other way point.

One of the conclusions of the research suggests that DOMS might actually decrease your strength and decrease your cell growth in your muscle tissue. Movement patterns are also badly affected in a negative way. When your muscles are sore, your performance is also lacking, which means that protein synthesis in your muscle cells is also low after a workout.

The second conclusion from the study is that if DOMS is prevalent in your body, you are more prone to injury and unable to keep to your exercise plan because of all the pain you are feeling.

The study also showed that delayed onset muscle soreness is directly related to muscle damage caused by exercise. However, the problem arises when people associate muscle growth with post-exercise pain. DOMS and muscle building have almost nothing in common, as people can actually experience the effects of DOMS without causing inflammatory pain.

I know what you’re thinking – what does inflammation have to do with growth? Well it’s easy. The body has two possible states when it comes to metabolism – anabolic and catabolic.

Anabolism is related to growth and is very closely related to muscle cell swelling. When you are in an anabolic state, your protein synthesis levels are up, which means you are building more muscle. There is another side of the story here, however.

In 2013, Schönfeld and Contreras stated that DOMS and cell swelling are not linked because sore muscles tend to peak before the muscle swells. We also have a genetic component related to delayed onset muscle soreness. People tend to be more prone to DOMS in certain muscles, while other muscles don’t hurt at all, no matter how well trained or developed.

This just proves that there is no connection between DOMS and muscle gain. In short, no, pain doesn’t mean your muscles are growing.

Some people experience the dramatic effect of post-exercise delayed sore muscles. We’d even go so far as to name this muscle injury instead of DOMS. If you’re that sore it means your muscles haven’t fully recovered, and if DOMS is sustained for an extended period of time, it means the body has not recovered at all.

When you damage your muscles this much, you also decrease your ability to exercise consistently, which means your attitude towards exercise will be different too.

If you simply think that sore muscles are in any way positively correlated with muscle growth, you will be hurt and it will lower your motivation and performance as well. While many people think that feeling sore muscles is the epitome of muscle growth after a good workout, research would disagree.

Pain is a perfectly normal response to new challenges for your body in whatever form, but it shouldn’t be considered important for muscle growth. It’s perfectly fine to stop a workout that doesn’t result in delayed sore muscles.

If you have DOMS every now and then, that’s fine. However, if you have it for an extended period of time, it can cause serious problems with your general health. So make sure you take good care of your body if you want to keep exercising and pushing ahead – with DOMS you won’t.

Here Are 5 Effective Ways To Prevent And Treat Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

References:
Byrnes WC and Clarkson PM. “Delayed sore muscles and training.” Clin Sports Med 5: 605-614, 1986.
Schönfeld, BJ & Contreras, B. (2013). “Is sore muscles after exercise a valid indicator of muscle adaptation?” Strength & Conditioning Journal (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins), 35 (5), 16-21.

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