DOMS, or delayed muscle onset soreness, is an inevitable part of resistance training. Depending on the individual, DOMS can be anything from a light ‘stiffness’ to being incapacitatingly sore. While it may really suck, this pain we suffer may help us understand if our training is effective and may assist with gains in the long term.

While science has not definitively proved whether DOMS is a valid means of measuring training session’s effectiveness on muscle growth, there are certain thought patterns to why it may and why it may not.

Let’s start with why not:


Certain Muscle Groups Rarely Get Stiff

For most people, no matter how hard you train certain muscle groups, they rarely get sore. Shoulders, forearms and calves can take quite a beating before you feel the effects of DOMS. Regardless of this, you are still able to build these muscles.


Training More frequently Diminishes The Effects of DOMS

If you train a muscle group frequently, your body starts to adapt to the training and the effects of DOMS become diminished. If you train less frequently, you will often be far more sore post training. However, in order to see growth, you need to train often. So the correlation between DOMS and growth is therefore rendered moot.


Increases In Strength Don’t Necessarily Mean Worse DOMS

You would think that if you are pushing your body to the max in order to gain strength that you would experience worse DOMS, right? Well, this is not necessarily true. Advanced lifters are often able to see gains in strength by improving the neural connection between the motor cortex and the muscles. This improved movement can help to lift more weight but does not necessarily impact DOMS.

Now that we have had a look at a few reasons why DOMS may not be responsible for growth, here are a few reasons why they just might be:


Beginners Often Experience DOMS More Often

Within the first few months of lifting, beginners experience the greatest degree of muscle growth. During this time, beginners also experience a high degree of DOMS. After almost every training session beginners are sore. Coincidence?


DOMS Is Often A Side Effect Of New Training Stimuli

It is a well known fact that in order to grow, you need to provide your muscle with new stimuli which continually challenges the body. This can be done by including new movements to your workout or by increasing intensity, whether it be through performing more sets or reps, lifting heavier or adding more challenging training techniques. While you only see growth later when DOMS isn’t prevalent, that doesn’t mean that you can rule out DOMS as means of measuring growth potential.

While the “is DOMS necessary for growth?” debate is still ongoing, there are a few elements of DOMS you may want to take into account.

Consequences and Benefits


Unbearable DOMS

If your training leaves you so unbearably sore that you can barely move for the next few days, your training regimen may be counterproductive to seeing growth. This can often be a sign that you have exceeded your body’s ability to repair and recover effectively. Being able to recover and rebuild after a workout is essential for muscle growth, so overdoing it in the gym may not be the way to go if you are continually suffering from unbearable DOMS. Plus, the workouts following an intense session will not be performed at optimal levels and it may even lead to injury.

Bearable DOMS

For most gym-goers, suffering from a bit of DOMS is a welcome discomfort. It is a sign that you have had a productive workout which has challenged your muscles and pushed them to the next level. This is generally caused by subjecting your body to progressive overload, a necessary stimulus for muscle growth.

No DOMS

As mentioned above, not all muscle groups get sore. Because certain muscle groups are used to a greater extent throughout the day in general day to day movements, it takes a lot more to make them sore. This doesn’t mean that the workout you performed isn’t working, it just means that these muscle groups are used to taking a beating.

If you are concerned that you are no longer getting sore from training, make sure to change things up every few weeks and continually apply the law of progressive overload in each and every training session. If you are doing this and still not getting sore, you may be the lucky one who is able to recover and rebuild quicker.

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