Does muscle soreness mean a good workout? – Answered

Today let’s discuss about the question that I get asked all the time.

What’s best for muscle development? To be sore, or not to be sore? 

There is a lot of confusion about the muscle soreness and how they work to improve the hypertrophy. Everyone has their own theory to achieve better hypertrophy and strength, but today we are going to talk about the scientific evidence on the “role of muscle soreness”.


What is muscle soreness?

Post workout soreness is also known as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), its a muscle pain and soreness that is felt after a good intense workout. 

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, DOMS is experienced because of the micro-tears in the muscle tissues that occur in response to the heavy resistance training. Post-workout soreness is typically experienced after 12 to 24 hours post-workout.  

Some of the symptoms of DOMS are as followed: 

  • Swelling of the affected limbs
  • Stiffness and reduced range of motion. 
  • Tenderness to the touch.
  • Reduction in strength of the affected muscles.  
  • Swelling in the target muscle 

Role of muscle soreness in muscle gains-

What’s best for muscle development? To be sore, or not to be sore? 

If you are someone who frequently chases for muscle soreness for great strength and hypertrophy then you should re-evaluate your strategy once again. 

It’s a common belief among lifters that the more muscle soreness is equally correlated to more gains. Some lifters use post-workout soreness as an indicator of a good workout. But is it really true? 

Does, muscle soreness = muscle growth? 

Muscle soreness has been viewed as an essential factor for muscle growth but it all you need for intense gains? 

NO, post-workout soreness is not the only determining factor for muscle growth. 

Brad J Schoenfeld, showed the top three factors for muscle growth in his 2010 study. According to him, three major factors of muscle growth are: 

  • Muscle tension / progressive overload
  • Metabolic stress or high volume training
  • Muscle damage

Basically, the study proves that muscle damage is not the only catalyst for muscle growth and hypertrophy. One can achieve muscle growth without experience post-workout soreness as well. 

So, you should be training to break muscle tissues and make them sore but you should not be worried if you are not sore at all. 


Does more muscle soreness = More muscle growth? 

It’s proven that muscle damage is one of the catalysts of muscle growth. Does that mean more soreness leads to better hypertrophy? 

No there is a poor correlation between muscle soreness and muscle growth. 

For example, long-distance running may lead to experiencing muscle soreness but that does not lead to muscle growth. 

Feeding your body is still the most important aspect of muscle growth, no matter how good your training session was, those muscles won’t grow if you don’t feed them properly.

In short, Muscle damage does not guarantee good muscle gain but it’s definitely an indicator of a good workout. You can achieve greater gains if proper diet, supplementation and sleep routine is followed after a good workout session. 


Should I Workout When I’m Sore?

So you had a really good workout session and you are experiencing DOMS even after 3 days of workout, should you workout with sore muscle? 

It depends on how bad it is. 

If you are experiencing acute pain or swelling then you should go directly to your doctor, not the gym.

If you experience acute stiffness and tightness: It usually happens after a real good legs workout, right? If your muscles are going through the repairing process of specific muscle groups, creating more tears can have negative effects on strength and muscle health. 

So if you are unable to work properly and DOMS has caused a limited range of motion then you should think about skipping your workout for a day. Instead, you should involve in some active recovery routines that can help you get rid of stiffness. 

If you are experiencing medium soreness after 4 days of workout then it’s a good time to hit that muscle again. Training that muscle again will provide the required stretch and get the nutrition-rich blood flowing to the area for faster recovery.

Instead of going to real heavy on the workout, its time to get some high rep, lightweight workout to experience good pump without causing extreme damage to the muscle. 


Tips for Reducing Muscles Soreness

Experiencing  muscle soreness is totally normal and there are numerous activities you can do to accelerate the DOMS recovery. 

Here are some of the tips to accelerate muscle recovery. 

Active recovery: 

Best way to accelerate the recovery process and reduce the DOMS symptoms is to indulge in active recovery routine. Active recovery is a low intensity activity that helps in relieving the stiffness and get the better blood supply towards target area. Some of the common active recovery routines are steady state cardio, swimming, yoga, tai-chi, etc. 

Mayofascial release: 

Most of the stiffness occurs because of the tightness in fascia. There are numerous techniques that can help in relieving the stiffness. Two common myofascial release are: 

  • Compression 
  • Decompression

Compression include techniques like deep tissue massage, massage guns, foam rolling, gua sha scraping, etc. 

De-compression include cupping therapy. Cupping has been a traditional chinese therapy that is found to be very useful in relieving stiffness and other DOMS symptoms. 

Rehydration: 

Your body loses a large amount of water weight after an intense workout. It’s not just the water that your body is losing, you are also loosing essential electrolytic liquids. 

Dehydration may lead to feeling dizziness, headaches, loss of coordination and physical performance

Low-calorie sports drinks can do the work for you. Adding some electrolytic salts in plain water can be a cost-effective solution to replenish sodium and potassium levels. 

Sleep 

Sleep has a significant effect on your muscle recovery and growth process, we all know that. But there are few other pointers that you need to know as well. 

To get the best restoration, the body needs to have undisturbed 7-8 hours of sleep. 

The pituitary gland secretes growth hormones when your body is in a state of deep sleep and not enough sleep may lead to a decline in growth hormone. 

Are you someone who struggles with a quality night sleep? Some natural sleep supplements (Chamomile, Melatonin, ZMA, etc) and meditation to help you achieve restful sleep (20). 

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