For those of you who have lifted heavy or swung a kettlebell around during a workout you will probably have experienced that stiff muscle soreness the next day or even 2 days after.
BUT is being sore after a workout a good indicator of workout effectiveness? Well…no it isn’t.
I know many other trainers and clients have come to relish the soreness they get the next day and psychologically this makes them feel like they are progressing towards a goal that improves strength, muscle size or definition. For others it may be it makes them feel like they have burnt a tonne of calories and boosted their metabolism.
While their maybe an element of truth in both statements, muscle soreness is not a reliable indicator of fitness progress. I will state also that NOT having muscle soreness is also not a reliable indicator of a bad workout.
WHAT IS MUSCLE SORENESS (DOMS)
The specific mechanisms within the muscles that results in DOMS aren’t exactly known, but it’s thought to be the feeling of inflammation caused by damage (microscopic tears) to muscle fibres and connective tissue.
These microscopic tears are most likely to happen in the eccentric phase of an exercise where the muscles are loaded with tension over a longer period of time. For example: the lowering part of a squat will be the eccentric aspect of the exercise. The concentric will be the movement upwards.
Some people are more receptive to muscle soreness than others and it may even be the case that some muscles in the body are more inclined to feel soreness over others.
IS MUSCLE SORENESS A FACTOR IN MUSCLE GROWTH AT ALL?
Yes. Muscle soreness is an indicator of muscle damage which does lead to adaptations within the muscle. However the amount of soreness does not correlate to the amount of muscle fibre damage. Confused yet?
A paper published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning stated:
“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,”
To improve and build muscle (hypertrophy) there are three key mechanisms we need to factor in: mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage. It is possible to achieve results without generating muscle damage.
Muscle damage does lead to hypertrophy but it’s only part of the puzzle, as hypertrophy can still occur without it, via mechanisms one and two – mechanical tension and metabolic stress. (Schoenfeld B. 2010).
The key element to take from this is that you should not rely on muscle soreness as a progress indicator or workout effectiveness tool.
What you should be doing for optimum results is creating a programme with specific exercises related to your goal outcomes. Practice these movements perfectly over a set period of time and GRADUALLY increase the load. You measure your progression throughout with your ability to perform more reps, increase weight or less rest phases.
That said, everyone is different. Some people may see better results and performance with heavy loads and lower reps, others through moderate reps and muscle failure. Experiment with different training styles, reps and rest phases and monitor progress through these factors instead.