When I hear a person saying “No pain, no gain” or “Dude, working out should leave you sore as F if you wish to grow,” I know I am not listening to a serious person.
To explain to you why, you probably, most likely, definitely need to know that intense resistance training causes exercise-induced muscle damage. Here’s what I mean:
With exercise-induced muscle damage often comes delayed-onset muscle soreness. It typically peaks 24-48 hours after a workout (you’ve probably felt that soreness an ungodly number of times, haven’t ya?).
That soreness is what many people chase. It’s what they judge their workouts on—if they don’t feel sore, they feel like it was a waste of time; They should’ve just stayed home and manscaped their eyebrows.
But does muscle soreness means growth? Should we specifically chase muscle soreness? Well, Flann et al. investigated exactly that:
Subjects were divided into two groups:
Muscle soreness was assessed before each workout and the pre-trained group had significantly less muscle soreness than the other group:
You would think that more muscle damage and soreness resulted in more muscle growth. Hahaha. No. That didn’t happen—both muscle size and strength increased equally in subjects in both groups.
So excessive muscle soreness IS NOT necessary for muscle growth to occur.
If anything, too much soreness can fuck up your results because when you break down muscle tissue, your body has to repair it before you can gain new muscle.
But if soreness is so severe and there’s so much muscle breakdown, recovery ends up consuming a crapload of resources leaving you gaining muscle slowly or none at all.
Now, I gettit—me claiming that muscle soreness doesn’t mean muscle growth might be deeply unpopular with absolutely everyone who has a nose and private parts.
But it’s not just me—a bunch of PhD-smart people is in agreement with it. Brad Schoenfeld, a professor of exercise science, noted in his book:
Eric Helms, a coach and author, observed the same his book:
Now, while too much muscle soreness is No Bueno, zero soreness is probably also an indicator that something in your training is off. And by probably, I mean most definitely.
What If You Don’t Feel Any Soreness?
Mike Israetel, PhD in sports physiology, observed in his book:
This means that if you, say, train chest, and you feel no chest soreness or any kind of disruption such as stiffness, weakness, etc. a day or two later, you probably trained with insufficient volume (sets per muscle group), intensity, frequency, range of motion, etc.
While muscle soreness isn’t an indicator of muscle growth, it is a by-product of a logically designed training program. An appropriate amount of soreness will occur naturally as you train with stimulative and progressive overload.
So no, you SHOULD NOT specifically chase muscle soreness to ensure muscle growth. But you should follow the fundamental principles of hypertrophy training which in turn will cause mild to moderate muscle soreness.
So make sure you follow these guidelines (start with the lower end of the range and adjust based on soreness):
So muscle soreness doesn’t mean muscle growth. But it does tell whether your exercise selection, volume, intensity, etc. are applied logically.
If you train correctly, you should feel some sort of muscle soreness/disruption that lasts for 2-3 days.
If you’re too sore to train the same muscle group 2-3 days later, know that you’re in a sort of never-never land where you train with gut-wrenching intensity with little to no muscle growth to show for it.
And if you have zero muscle soreness, you’re probably not training hard enough for optimal gainz and you need my damn help. Apply here.