Is muscle soreness really needed for muscle growth?

07-09-2020
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Do you belong to the group of people that says muscle soreness doesn't have to do anything with muscle growth? We are going to find out the answer to this torturing question in this article, and we will also talk about what training method you should use for maximum growth.


Ordinary people believe muscle soreness is a bad thing, and in a sense, they are right. Let's face it: it's not really uplifting when you can't pick something up from the ground without feeling pain in your legs. On top of everything, muscle soreness lasts at about 3 to 5 days, and some people take pain pills to ease their pain. But bodybuilders absolutely love muscle soreness. In fact, they hate it when they don't have it after workouts. Most of them think that soreness means the workout was hard enough and therefore the muscles will evantually grow. But does muscle soreness really indicate muscle growth, or it has nothing to do with the process?

As we said a million times before here at Builder: when we work out, we do not build muscles, we are causing micro damages in their fibers (or the connective tissue around the muscles, according to modern research). The body then fixes and regenerates these tiny damages, making the muscles bigger and stronger.

Let’s see how can we force our body to create muscle growth in the gym:

  1. progressive overload (lifting heavier and heavier weights)
  2. metabolic stress (lifting moderate weights, to failure)
  3. eccentric overload (controlling the negative, causing mechanical damage to muscles)

1. Progressive overload

Concept: you have to constantly „surprise” your muscles, because they can quickly adapt to changes. If they get used to a certain weight, they won’t have to work harder, and therefore they are not forced to become stronger and bigger. Ronnie Coleman was a big fan of this training method.

Drawbacks: you can only use this technique for a fairly short amount of time. There is a level you can reach, but can’t surpass. When this happens, your progression will stagnate.
Lifting heavy weights can also cause wear and tear in your joints and ligaments – you won't necessarily be injured right away, but over time your joints could start aching.
It’s really hard to keep good form and concentrate on the muscles during the exercise when the weight is just too heavy.

2. Metabolic stress

When you can’t lift heavier weights anymore, you have to create muscle growth using another approach, which is relying on getting the most out of your metabolic system.

Concept: when you work out, your body produces metabolites (lactic acid and creatine for example, which signals muscle growth). The higher the volume (and the longer it lasts), the shorter the rest periods are, the more metabolites are going to be produced. So you must lower the load of weights and increase the volume at the same time.

This is more of a joint-friendly training method, and you will certainly feel your muscles more during training. Metabolic stress really starts to kick off when you're about to drop the weights because you feel you can't do more reps – this is when you must crank out 5 more reps.

Drawbacks:

  • this kind of training is just too hard for some people, it is even harder than working out with heavy weights: metabolic stress creates a very intense burn in your muscles, and not everybody has what it takes to get through this pain
  • it's very easy to overtrain
  • during heavy metabolic stress it's very hard to pay attention to what really causes muscle soreness, which is the following:

3. Eccentric training

Yes, controlling and slowing down the negative part of the movement is the best way to damage your muscle fibers and therefore generate muscle.

Concept: eccentric training causes the biggest mechanical damage to the muscles. This also means that muscles will not only grow if they got sore the next day – olympic weightlifters would never be muscular if this was true (they usually do occlusion training, which is the antagonism of eccentric training). To make things clear for you: while the muscles are contracting and shortening in the positive part of the exercise, they're stretching and extending in the negative.

Drawbacks:

  • we can’t always slow down and control the negative – it would case a non-stop pain in our muscles, and we wouldn’t be able to train at all
  • eccentric training takes a lot of time, and when your workout is longer than 1 hour, you are probably overtraining yourself

Wait, didn’t you forget something?

This is what most people forget: if your muscles got sore the next day after your workout, and you don’t give them the things they need (proper, healthy diet, the right amount of sleep and rest, supplementation, etc.), your workout was indeed useless. This is why muscle soreness alone is not enough to indicate muscle growth.

What if you can’t achieve muscle soreness at all

Don’t panic, and don’t think that your workout was useless. If your muscles are not sore after a workout, only means that your body has adapted to the training – in other words, your muscles got stronger and bigger. Isn’t this we all train for? Not to mention that we can’t always generate muscle soreness. Nonetheless, try to aim for muscle soreness too.

See the whole picture

You have to combine all three workout methods mentioned above to build the most muscle. Muscle soreness is a great thing for bodybuilders, but it is not the only required thing for muscle growth, and therefore you should never let muscle pain be your only goal. If you don't have muscle soreness after your workout, it doesn't necessarily mean that your muscles won't grow bigger and stronger, it simply means that you didn't pay attention to eccentric training.

You can achieve muscle growth with 3 different techniques, creating muscle soreness is only one of them. You have to train heavy with fewer reps, train lighter with more reps, and pay attention to the negatives.


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