I’m Not Sore! Is That a Problem?

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Muscle Soreness After Exercise (DOMS)

It’s long been a myth that if you didn’t get sore from your last workout, then you didn’t work hard enough and you probably didn’t improve. But it’s just a myth. Soreness is not an indicator of a successful workout.

Muscle soreness that occurs directly after a workout is known as acute muscle soreness. Muscle soreness that appears 12 to 48 hours after exercise is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or post exercise muscle soreness (PEMS).

Acute muscle soreness or inflammation can last up to an hour after exercise and can be caused by a reduction in normal blood flow to the muscle and a build up of metabolic byproducts like hydrogen ions or lactic acid.

The physiological mechanisms that cause DOMS or PEMS are not completely understood but the leading hypotheses are: (1) the Connective Tissue Damage Hypothesis, (2) Skeletal Muscle Damage Hypothesis, and (3) The Spasm Hypothesis.

Connective Tissue Damage Hypothesis.

In a 1997 study, Brown, Child, Day and Donnelly reaffirmed an early study done by Abraham suggesting that DOMS or PEMS is due to a disruption in the connective tissue of the muscle and tendinous attachments.

Skeletal Muscle Damage Hypothesis.

In a 1986 study, Clarkson et al found that serum creatine kinase concentration was elevated with concentric, eccentric and isometric contractions, with greater perceived muscle soreness associated with the eccentric contraction. In a 2000 article entitled “Effects of Plyometric Exercise on Muscle Soreness and Plasma Creatine Kinase Levels and its Comparison with Eccentric and Concentric Exercise” (The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 68–74), the authors found Clarkson’s study not only proved to be true but also concluded that plyometric activities had incurred perceived muscle soreness than concentric contractions.

Spasm Hypothesis.

In a 1980 study, Devries proposed that DOMS or PEMS is due to a restriction in blood supply, generally due to factors in the blood vessels, with resultant damage or dysfunction of tissue called ischemia. As you continued to workout, further ischemia would result in more damage and “soreness.” This theory was further proven by work done in 2000 by Barlas, Walsh, Baxter, and Allen.

Sources: ISSA Complete Guide to Fitness: Edition 8.1.5, Unit 15, pp. 415

DOMS or PEMS seems to be a side-effect of muscle tearing and repairing that occurs after a workout. It’s an unfortunate side-effect as well because you are very sore and it takes 2 or more days for the soreness to go away. Soreness should not be a goal of training. Many people experience soreness when they do a particular exercise with a moderate to heavy weight and get a good, deep stretch. Not every person experiences muscle soreness. In fact, many do not yet they continue to make fantastic progress.

Forget soreness as an indicator or progress and use the most underutilized piece of equipment in the gym to tell you EXACTLY where you are, where you’ve been and if you are making forward movement.

What’s the piece of equipment?

A training journal!

Your goal should be to improve on your last efforts. Getting a little bit better with each step and each workout. If you track your progress in some type of journal, it’s easy to see if you are improving. It’s even more beneficial to track some of your body measurements (fat loss, weight gain, size on arms and legs).

Use your journal to track your progress and your perception of how you feel. When you are done with a workout, you should feel better. Not so fatigued you can’t drive home. And not puking or so nauseous that it’s difficult to impossible to eat post-nutrition foods. You want to push yourself and get better but blasting yourself to the point of fatigue and overtraining where you are tired 2 days later or getting so sore it takes 7 days to walk again, is not good training. It will affect your recovery and that ultimately affects your next workout like a domino effect.

Soreness is not an indicator of a good workout. That myth has been around forever. Getting tired is easy. Getting better is not. I’ve never seen any proven scientific results that says soreness is a must in order to get better or stronger or bigger.

Marc David
“The NoBull Muscle Guy”

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Sore Muscles: 3 Phases for Treating Those Sore Muscles

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Muscle soreness can be caused by three hypothesis (muscle damage, tissue damage, muscle spasms) Sore Muscle Reliefresulting in cumulative micro trauma resulting in some type of cellular damage. At times, this can be the leading cause of overtraining and being uncomfortable for a few days after training.

Continual cellular damage over and over to the point where the body cannot recovery can result in overtraining.

It’s interesting to note that the amount of sore muscles you experience is not directly related to the amount of cellular damage.

From what is known about sore muscles is that the most muscle fiber damage seems to occur in the eccentric or stretching portion of the exercise.  That’s may be why you feel so sore after those dumbbell or cable flyes and maybe not a 90 degree bench press.

Don’t worry…

Here’s a quick checklist for helping to reduce the amount of muscle soreness you may experience. You can use one or all of these the next time you feel a little too sore from your last workout.

Phase 1 – Pre Training Recovery

Leg Elevation:

Many of us stand or sit for long periods of time before going to the gym and training. This is a less than optimal condition because your overall circulation is less than ideal. What you can do is 20-30 minutes before you train, lay down with your feel against a wall or other object and get the blood back to your upper body and heart.

You’ll improve your circulation especially when you train legs or your lower back.

If you want, you can take this opportunity to listen to music or take a quick nap and begin the mental transition into training. (Probably not a good idea to do this at work as you’ll be accused of lying down on the job).

Phase 2 – Recovery During Training

Rest Intervals Between Sets:

A great way to boost the intensity of any workout without changing a single thing is to decrease the rest time between sets. You’ll instantly get more work done in less time. If you feel that the intensity is too high, you can increase the time between sets and help reduce the build up of lactic acid as well. The time you take to rest between sets has a significant impact on your next set as well as future performance.

If you’ve ever tried Week 1 of Jeff Anderson‘s Advanced Mass Building, you’ll experience some lactic acid training that will bring a whole new level of sore muscles into your life.  It would appear that the level of lactic acid has some relation to the soreness as well.

Movement Between Sets:

Just think about it. It’s like a warm up and cool down all over again but between the sets. Most people understand the importance of warming up before lifting weights. They also know about a proper cool down after working out.

But did you know that you can use those sample principles on a minute level in between your sets?

This movement not only serves as a ‘transition’ between an all out effort and recovery but it aids in better circulation and helps reduce the swelling of muscular tissues.  Keep moving between sets.


Remember that soreness can be caused by a few hypothesis (tissue damage, muscle damage, spasms). But did you stop to think that if you keep on training the same you just keep on damaging the muscle at a micro level over and over without a chance to recover?

Incorporating a light day or week into your training can help flush the area with new blood, reduce the formation of scar tissue and flush waste from the area.

Planning these type of workouts in your training program will speed up the time needed to recover as well as add variety to your program which in turn provides overall recovery.

Phase 3 – Post Training Recovery

My strong hunch is that most people will be unable to avoid soreness at some point and seek treatment.

So that’s why there’s a few ways you can help reduce the severity of soreness during your training as well as aid in the recovery process after your training.

Contrast Showers:

Done on your lumbar area, this involves using short bursts of hot and cold water to improve the circulation. You can further stretch during this time to flush new blood to the area.

Post Workout Nutrition:

Needless to say…

After your workout your body is in a prime time to devour nutrients. This is an ideal time to give it the protein it needs with the carbohydrates for energy recovery.

You see, if muscle soreness is caused by micro trauma resulting in cellular damage then obviously you want to give your body plenty of materials quickly to repair itself.

Proper post workout nutrition can reduce the amount of soreness you can experience.

Therapeutic Modulaities:

This can encompass such things as massage, sauna, whirlpool, chiropractic adjustments, acupressure and others are among the more popular therapeutic modalities. Make no mistake….

Recovery really begins when you leave the gym. Depending on factors such as your level of fitness, age, medical conditions, you may be wise to use some or all of these post workout recovery methods to speed up overall recovery.

There’s no magic formula per se but anything you can do to help speed the recovery process will result in less muscular discomfort and quicker recovery for the next workout.

Have you heard that 90% gym-goers overtrain 90% of the time?

Could it be that simply “under-recovered” and could easily stand to train more if only they could recover quicker?


While there is not a set number of hours you need to sleep as that depends on the individuals schedule, personal preferences and level of stress it’s still clear that sleep is vital to recovery.

This is the time your body repairs all that micro trauma.

If you aren’t getting enough quality sleep, it can affect your overall recovery and body’s ability to repair itself. That can lead to prolonged muscle soreness. The amount of sleep each person needs will vary.

Make no mistake about muscle soreness…

It’s uncomfortable!

But using any or all of the above recovery methods you can significantly reduce the duration of muscle soreness.

More important than that…

Create a periodized program that helps to keep your body in a state of recovery and avoid overtraining.

Things I Don’t Recommend for Sore Muscles:

Aspirin and other medications. While it does reduce inflammation, it tends to reduce protein synthesis.  You just worked out and now you’re a bit sore so instead of taking some of the natural steps above, you reach for a pill.  Unless you have a medial requirement, I’d opt not to take over the counter medications for things as simple as “I’m sore” from my last workout.

Alcohol. Hey, it’s causes numbness but it has a slew of other effects on your muscle building efforts that aren’t productive.  Having a 6 pack may help reduce soreness but it’s the old college phrase I heard, “Solve one problem, create two more.”

Finally, it’s been shown in recent studies that static or dynamic stretching does not prevent or reduce the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) you may experience.   It’s still a good ideal to stretch post-workout but don’t expect a miracle to happen because of it.

Photo of the Bengay by jeroen020 Used under a Creative Commons license

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