Do You Have To Be Sore After A Workout To Make Progress?
We have all experienced it after one workout or another, whether you’re a newbie experiencing your first full body calisthenics workout, or a seasoned pro starting German volume training. It’s the bane of any athlete, and of course I am talking about soreness, or referred to in the fitness industry as DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
You either love it or your hate it, with it sometimes lasting for days after a workout… or even a week. While it can make any kind of stairs or even lifting your arms above your head seem like pure agony, some enjoy this soreness as they believe the more sore they are, the harder they worked and the more their muscles will grow. This theory about growth has been around for decades and athletes of all calibers have used this scale to measure progress.
Is it accurate though? Do DOMS after a workout mean you broke down more muscle fibers and exhausted your body enough to cause a hypertrophic reaction? Or are the two independent of each other? Or maybe it’s little of both? In this article we will being going over the different techniques to cause muscle growth/strength, which of them produce soreness and if the forms that produce soreness are required for growth.
Techniques of Training That Do and Don’t Cause DOMS
When we workout, we put many types of stress on our body, from breaking down our muscle fibers, to straining our heart, producing lactic acid, and challenging our central nervous system among other things. Once we finish working out and rest our body goes to work repairing itself, and when in the right atmosphere (i.e. enough sleep, surplus of calories, not too much volume) it can be ready to work out the same muscle group in under 48 hours. But this isn’t always the case usually for beginners or those who are starting a new program and put a large emphasis on form, as this new stimuli on the body will produce more than likely a greater amount of DOMS that can last as long as four or five days after the workout.
After a certain amount of time, maybe a few week or a few months the DOMS stop, and even though they are still seeing progress on the bar or in the mirror they change up their routine or push themselves harder every time until they get that same amount of DOMS they first did with fear that they are no longer progressing fast enough. But they shouldn’t, because as it turns out this myth while not completely false, isn’t always true, and here’s why.
In the strength and size side of progress, there are many ways to grow, and only a few actually make you very sore. The first is progressive overload, which can be done with almost any kind of weight for almost any kind of intensity (although both of these will eventually go up). The main focus here is to continually add weight to the bar or volume (reps) to your workout, week after week, month after month. When done correctly the first few months of a progressive overload program won’t produce any kind of DOMS as the weight won’t be heavy enough and there simply won’t be enough volume. But you will still be progressing and growing your strength even without feeling soreness for the majority of the workouts.
The only downside to doing only this form of training is eventually you won’t be able to indefinitely put weight on the bar or do an infinite amount of reps, and in this situation you would include a different form of training as well.
Another popular form of training is metabolic stress, which involves lighter loads, a lot of reps to failure, (sometimes) partial range of motion and almost always pushing beyond failure. This either involves drop sets, super sets, having a training partner help you get more reps when you fail etc. This form of training is great for muscle hypertrophy and is much easier on your joints/ligaments which is great for those who are older or have injuries.
Another benefit of this type of training is it also doesn’t produce much DOMS. More than likely if you have done workouts of this nature it has come after a normal workout which is where most of the muscle breakdown (and soreness) occurs. Occlusion training is also a popular type of metabolic stress that involves light weight done for a high amount of reps, but the muscle is cut off from the rest of the body by a band wrapped on the arm or leg. Metabolic stress is a great way to initiate muscle growth but the downside is that it can be quite painful and after a period of time it will put too much stress on your mind and body because pushing through the burn and pain is what will lead to an adaptation.
Finally, the last popular form of training that does almost always produce DOMS is mechanical damage from heavier weight exercises that go through a full range of motion, slow and controlled eccentrics i.e. the negative (the stretching of the muscle) and concentric (the contraction of the muscle). This form of training is most definitely the most popular and when done correctly will break down the most muscle fibers or tissue around the muscle to eventually be regrown bigger and stronger (with yes, usually a large amount of DOMS). The downside of doing only mechanical damage training is usually a lack of progression after a short amount of time and of course a large amount of DOMS that will ultimately debilitate you over time as being overly sore will negatively impact your next workout.
Take Home Message
More than likely, if you had a good trainer when you first began to train seriously they introduced you to all of these training techniques in one form or another. As you can see implementing progressive overload and/or metabolic stress in your training can be done with little to no DOMS afterwards while still having the ability to grow bigger and stronger (but not as effectively as possible). Or you could implement progressive overload and mechanical damage with a decent amount of DOMS and still being able to progress.
The best option for any healthy individuals though is to implement all three, as it will lead to the most sustainable amount of growth over a longer period of time. To clarify, just because you aren’t feeling DOMS after a particular workout doesn’t mean you weren’t working hard enough, more than likely your workout focused more on training techniques that didn’t involve mechanical damage. Its only when after consistently doing all three major forms of training techniques for so long that you hit a plateau strength wise or hypertrophy wise that a change in routine should be considered. And that’s it, all you wanted (and didn’t want) to know about training and whether DOMS are required to make progress. Thank you for reading to the end and go out and spread your new found knowledge!