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Soreness ≠ Growth

We all know the feeling… After leg day, when you can barely walk down the stairs… Some people love it… Others hate it.

But what does DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) actually tell us?

The sad truth is… 

Not very much!

Muscle soreness is typically the result of a novel stimulus

Novel stimulus comes from:

  • Doing a new exercise for the first time (or first time in a while);

  • Doing more volume than you are used to; 

  • Doing a new exercise which prioritizes the stretch i.e. if all you’ve been doing for hamstrings is lying leg curls, then you decide to do deep RDL’s, you’re going to know about it the next day!

How sore you get depends on your stress versus tolerance relationship.

If you’ve been doing low training volumes (for example, 2-3 sets per muscle group per session), your tolerance for volume in a workout is low. 

If you then perform a very high-volume workout (for example 8-10 sets per muscle per workout, like a bro-split), the level of stress is high and your tolerance is low.

You’re likely to get very sore!

If you’ve been performing leg extensions and leg presses (but no hack squats) for weeks, your tolerance for hack squats is very low. So if you switch to hack squats, the level of stress imposed is high and your tolerance is very low.

Again - because of the novelty of the exercise, you’re likely to get very sore!

Does that mean we will grow more?

Not necessarily. 

If we chased soreness we would end up changing our workouts each and every week, constantly searching for novelty. 

However, we know the most efficient way to grow is to perform the same sequence of exercises for multiple weeks and apply progressive overload over time.

Therefore, soreness is not something we should actively chase

But is it something we should run away from?


Soreness at least tells us we are using the right muscle groups

For example if we are performing RDL’s to grow our hamstrings, but the next day our hamstrings feel nothing and our lower back is in pieces… That’s a good sign we need to look at our technique to ensure we are emphasizing the desired muscle groups!

On top of this, once the novelty of a new programme has worn off after 1-2 weeks because of the ‘repeated bout effect’, soreness can help us dictate whether we should add more volume or not. 

If we are constantly getting sore from a particular exercise, it’s a good indication we are at least doing enough

But if we never get sore, and feel like we have the time/recovery to do more, then we may make more progress by doing a bit more volume (adding a set or two, or training with a little higher RPE’s).

In fact, soreness might have little to do with muscles at all…

And might instead originate in the connective tissue, rather than the muscle itself!

To summarize, soreness is neither good, nor bad. It is simply feedback.

If you’re new to lifting weights, you will be quite sore for the first couple of weeks. That’s 100% normal! 

As you keep training your body will adapt and you will be less sore over the coming days, weeks and months.

This is because it takes time for your tolerance to increase, thereby regulating the stress versus tolerance relationship in favor of less soreness.

So try not to think about it too much, unless:

If a muscle is still sore, by the time you are due to train it again, to the point where it impacts your training performance

That means your training programme is not set up correctly for you.

You need a proper training programme to build strength and gain muscle without the BS bro splits that are designed to get you sore and nothing else.

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