I get asked A LOT about the relationship between muscle soreness and muscle growth.

Is it a sign that growth has been stimulated?

What if you never get DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)? Does it mean you aren’t gaining?

DOMS is pretty much felt by all beginners. Intermediate and advanced lifters experience it less and less.

HOWEVER…

You should be experiencing DOMS now and then.

And I’m sure everyone on my free THT training program feels muscle soreness at least once a week in at least one or 2 body parts (due to the high intensity nature of the routine).

There are different pathways that stimulate and lead to muscle growth. Overload, maximum muscle fiber recruitment, metabolic stress levels, taking a set to failure are all important and have been shown to correlate positively with protein synthesis levels i.e. as these factors increase, protein synthesis levels (growth) increase. Simple.

But another factor is simplyMUSCLE DAMAGE.

a muscle fiber

a muscle fiber

The more muscle fibers are damaged, the more repair they need. Hopefully, they will not just compensate but OVERcompensate and put more back than was there to begin with i.e. you’ve grown.

DOMS is a marker for muscle damage. Just like any other part of the body, when you damage it, or cause trauma, the body causes the area to become painful so that you don’t touch it – the body knows that it heals best when you simply leave it alone. Touching or picking at a wound will prevent it from healing.

So we can conclude that soreness is a sign that damage has occurred. And since damage is a marker for growth, yes we can say that DOMS can be seen as an indicator that growth may have been stimulated.

BUT…

It’s only ONE indicator among others.

THEREFORE

This does NOT mean that when you don’t experience DOMS, you didn’t stimulate growth. So don’t panic.

But if you NEVER experience soreness, I’d say that’s a sign that you may not be growing. And the culprit is almost certainly that your intensity levels are sub-optimal (you are not taking your sets to failure). Intensity and soreness correlate positively – everyone knows this.

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THINK ABOUT THIS…

  • When did you grow most? When you first started training (newbie gains)
  • When did you experience most soreness? When you first started training.

That’s no coincidence.

The bottom line here is that no 1 single workout is wasted if you don’t experience DOMS. But if you are never sore, something’s wrong. Check your intensity levels. And check your form for constant tension and controlled negatives to ensure that the intended muscle is actually doing the work.

Download my THT workout below for free; this will set you straight and get you growing again if you’ve stalled.

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Mark McManus


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