People's most common method to gauge if they had a good workout is sore muscles the next day. Your muscles ache, so that means you caused muscle damage and more muscle damage means more muscle growth...right? Muscle damage as a contributing factor to muscle growth has been a topic of discussion lately. Some scientists are changing their minds about how important muscle damage is for muscle growth.
IS DOMS A SIGN OF MUSCLE GROWTH? DOES SORENESS MEAN MUSCLE GROWTH SUMMARY
- Research shows that post-exercise muscle soreness (DOMS) is not a good indicator of muscle growth.
- Muscle growth had no relationship with any marker of muscle damage, such as soreness or blood markers of muscle damage (i.e., creatine kinase).
- Just because you experience DOMS does not mean more muscle growth.
- Muscle damage becomes less over time due to the repeated bout effect, but muscle growth still occurs.
- Excess muscle damage can reduce muscle growth.
- Lactic acid does not cause sore muscles.
SHOULD I BE SORE AFTER EVERY WORKOUT?
People’s most common method to gauge if they had a good workout is sore muscles the next day. The scientific term for muscle soreness is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Your muscles ache, so that means you caused muscle damage and more muscle damage means more muscle growth…right? Muscle damage as a contributing factor to muscle growth has been a topic of discussion lately. Some scientists are changing their minds about how important muscle damage is for muscle growth.
DOES DOMS/SORENESS EQUAL MORE MUSCLE GROWTH?
Muscle damage leads to a cascade of events after exercise, leading to increased inflammation, cell swelling, and tenderness in the exercised area. These chemicals make nerve ending more sensitive, creating the perception of soreness. We have all heard that exercise causes microscopic tears in the muscle, which causes the muscle to rebuild and grow. However, new research suggests that soreness may not have anything to do with gaining muscle. Recent research points towards a strong involvement of the connective tissue. One hypothesis is that delayed onset muscle soreness DOMS originates in the muscle-associated connective tissue rather than in the muscle itself.
First, muscle soreness is a poor indicator of actual muscle damage. When researchers compared how sore they felt after intense eccentric exercise, there was very little relationship between blood markers of muscle damage and the subject’s soreness rating. In another study, scientists hooked up electrodes and electrically stimulated subjects’ legs to maximally contract or had them perform exercise leg extension as hard as they could.
Both groups experienced intense soreness after exercise. However, when looking at muscle tissue samples after exercise, the electrically stimulated muscle had much greater muscle damage than the exercise group, despite both groups feeling similar levels of muscle soreness. This suggests that the level of soreness does not mean more muscle growth.
DOES DOMS MEAN YOUR MUSCLES ARE GROWING?
This suggests that DOMS is not a good indicator of how much muscle damage has occurred. There is a large variability in how sore people are after exercise. Don’t gauge the degree of muscle soreness as a marker of how great your workout was or how much muscle damage you think occurred. In a study of college football players, athletes that reported feeling “better” driven by perceived levels of increased muscle soreness had a greater risk of injury.
SHOULD YOU EXPERIENCE DOMS EVERY WORKOUT?
Research suggests that DOMS is not a good indicator of muscle growth. Just because you are sore the next day does not mean you are stimulating muscle growth! Studies have found that trained subjects experience muscle growth without muscle soreness. One study tracked muscle growth over 10 weeks. The subjects experienced intense muscle soreness after the initial workout at 48 hours. In weeks 3 and 10, muscle soreness was very low after workouts.
The subjects had an average ~14% increase in muscle growth at the end of the study. Muscle growth had no relationship with any marker of muscle damage, such as soreness or blood markers of muscle damage (i.e., Creatine kinase).
Muscle soreness, often referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), isn’t always a reliable indicator of muscle growth. Some studies have shown no correlation between the degree of DOMS and muscle size gains. Instead, a more accurate measure of muscle damage is the loss of strength. Among various markers for muscle damage, like soreness, swelling, and creatine kinase levels, the most dependable is muscle function related to force production.
With consistent resistance training, muscles adapt and become more resistant to damage. This phenomenon, known as the repeated bout effect, means that each subsequent workout results in less muscle damage. It’s also worth noting that while long-distance running can induce muscle damage and soreness, it doesn’t significantly contribute to muscle growth.
A misconception among many lifters is that extreme soreness equates to an effective workout. Mild post-exercise soreness is typical and expected, but chasing excessive muscle damage in the name of growth can lead to overtraining.
Interestingly, not all muscle growth is associated with significant damage. Blood flow restriction training, for instance, has been shown to promote muscle growth without causing substantial damage. Similarly, research has shown that concentric-only exercises (without eccentric contractions) can lead to increased lean mass, muscle thickness, and arm circumference without evident training-induced muscle damage.
In summary, muscle growth and muscle damage are not always intertwined, and one can occur without the other. Proper training and understanding of these concepts can lead to effective and safe muscle development.
DOES DOMS MEAN MUSCLE GROWTH
There is debate about whether muscle damage is the true cause of muscle growth. This is a controversial subject and completely changes how researchers look at muscle growth. For decades, it was believed that tension overload caused damage to the muscle, followed by protein synthesis and muscle growth.
It should be stated that excess muscle damage will cause a loss of muscle size. In a 2001 study, researchers applied compression damage in which a weighted device was dropped from a fixed height on the rat’s leg. Excess muscle damage resulted in a loss of muscle size and impaired regeneration. This again points to excess damage not being the driving force for muscle growth.
Therefore, there must be tension overload with damage for muscle growth to occur. Excess downhill running causes muscle damage and inhibits muscle growth in mice. This suggests excess damage is not conducive to muscle growth.
Comparing blood flow restriction training to heavy resistance exercise further complicates the role of muscle damage and muscle growth. Both groups increased muscle mass, with the advantage towards heavy resistance exercise. The BFR group increased muscle mass without muscle damage or cell swelling.
The heavy resistance exercise group had muscle damage in the first 3 weeks but was attenuated by week 6. This again suggests that muscle damage should not be used to gauge muscle growth. If muscle damage were the predominant cause of muscle growth, one would expect muscle damage to occur after extended eccentric exercise. This does not occur due to the repeated bout effect, and muscles become more resilient to muscle damage.
One study compared muscle damage response to concentric-only vs. eccentric-only lifting for ten weeks. In the eccentric-only training group, markers of muscle damage were elevated to a greater degree than in the concentric-only group at the beginning of the study. The subjects all experienced muscle soreness, as most people do after performing heavy eccentric exercises.
Here is the shocker! By week 10, markers of muscle damage were similar in both groups, and neither group showed any indication of post-workout muscle damage. This suggests that the muscle becomes more resistant to damage over time. Hence, the muscles learn to protect themselves from further damage.
DON’T TRAIN FOR MUSCLE DAMAGE
Don’t train for damage. Train enough to create an optimal stimulus, not excess muscle damage. I prefer a happy medium where it’s normal to feel a little sore after a workout but not where your muscles have been obliterated.
If you have no soreness, your intensity may be too low, or your volume may be too low. Just because you are not sore, don’t assume you didn’t have a good workout. The body has an amazing ability to become resilient to muscle damage. Muscle soreness should not be the sole indicator of basing your workout but a marker of a stimulus that has occurred, which should be used with other training variables such as muscle pumps, strength increases, fatigue, etc.
WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE WHEN YOUR MUSCLE ARE GROWING
There is a relationship between exercise volume and muscle growth up to a certain point. After reaching a certain volume threshold, no further increases in volume will enhance muscle growth. Some studies have found similar gains in muscle mass training one bodypart per week compared to training each muscle group five times per week.
FREQUENCY IN RESISTANCE TRAINING: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
In a study examining the effects of training frequency on muscle growth and strength, well-trained participants were divided into two groups: low-frequency and high-frequency.
Low-Frequency Group: This group followed a split-body routine, targeting each specific muscle group only once a week. An example of their regimen would be performing 10 sets of bench presses in a single day.
High-Frequency Group: Participants in this group trained all muscle groups five times a week. Using the bench press as an example, they would perform two sets every day.
To ensure that both groups had an equal weekly volume of sets, the high-frequency group performed 2-3 sets to failure. This approach balanced out the number of sets when compared to the low-frequency group, which trained each muscle group once a week.
This study aimed to understand the potential benefits or drawbacks of training frequency on muscle development and strength when the weekly volume is matched.
At the end of the study, similar increases in muscle growth occurred despite the high-frequency group performing more volume. The author stated, “Our findings suggest a set number (≥10 sets) per week performed to volitional failure (8-12 RM), instead of training frequency, is an important “stimulus” to promote muscle mass and strength gains in well-trained subjects when the sets and intensity are equated per week.”
The once-per-week group also experienced more soreness than the high-frequency group despite the same muscle growth. The researchers suggested that high-frequency training is an alternative to increase muscle mass without soreness. The researchers suspected that the high-frequency group might have had greater adaptations thru the repeated bout effect, offering greater muscle protection against muscle damage.
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