Soreness Does Not Equal Results

If you are reading this then you have experienced soreness at some point and time after a hard workout. Do you remember those times when your legs were so sore that you made a stink face getting out of the car? Or when it was hard to sit in a chair? What about the time your arms hurt so bad that doing anything to your hair was just pure agony? 

This soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). If you’ve been exercising long enough, you’ve probably felt it. Some lifters relish this pain as an indicator of success, but is that really true?

What is DOMS?

DOMS happens to me after a hard leg day. It can also occur in experienced lifters when they are getting back in the groove after taking a few weeks off. Research shows that it’s not restricted to any particular muscle group, but some people tend to experience it more in certain muscles.

Technically speaking, DOMS is pretty much a muscle strain. It's nothing too serious but it happens as a result of movements you perform that your body is unaccustomed to. As you may have experienced, DOMS can range from slight muscle discomfort to severe pain that limits range of motion. Generally, muscle soreness becomes noticeable ~8 hours post-workout and peaks 48-72 hours later, although the exact time course can vary.

One thing that I do want to make clear is that muscle soreness is not directly correlated to exercise-induced muscle damage. It is possible for severe DOMS to develop with little or no indication of muscle damage, and for severe damage to occur without DOMS. You need exercise-induced muscle damage to occur for your muscle fibers to hypertrophy or grow. 

Some studies show the presence of DOMS after long-distance running, which indicates it doesn’t just occur during resistance training. This should be an indicator that DOMS isn’t a good gauge of muscle growth since running causes minimal hypertrophy in your muscles.

People who are new to working out often have the most pronounced DOMS. This is due to the new stimulus that exercise provides. Again, they get sore because they aren’t accustomed to exercising, not because they are growing like monsters. 

I don't like being sore. It hinders my performance and can negatively affect my lifestyle. When you are sore you want to move less in general. Because you know that every time you have to move will suck. There is some scientific evidence to show DOMS may negatively affect workouts by altering motor patterns in later workouts. This could cause reduced activation of the desired muscle. Hence, DOMS could actually hinder your next workout. 

Exercising while having DOMS does not seem to make muscle damage worse, but it may interfere with the recovery process. 

The “No pain, No gain” theory is wrong! At least when it comes to muscle growth. 

Soreness can provide some insight, but don’t use it as a marker for a good workout. High levels of soreness show that you have exceeded the capacity for the muscle to undergo repair. Soreness can alter the ability to train safely, and it may decrease motivation. DOMS is the main cause of reduced exercise performance. This includes decreased muscle strength and range of motion for both athletes and non-athletes. 

So be careful next time you think it is a good idea to push it to your maximum potential just because you think being sore is a great notion. 

Your P.E. teacher lied to you.