Do DOMS = Muscle Growth?

You might hear people bragging about how sore their session made them, especially when it comes to legs, as if that is a reward for a successful session. But is it really indicating that we have stimulated more growth, or just a sign of poor volume and recovery management?

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What is DOMS?

Defining DOMS. DOMS, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, is the soreness that we feel in muscles we have worked in the hours to days after training. It appears to be due to microtrauma to tissues when we break them down in resistance training.

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DOMS: Good or Bad?

As muscle damage is one of the mechanisms of hypertrophy, it would make sense that DOMS is a good thing for growth, right? Well, not necessarily. There can actually come a point where muscle damage has been excessive, and there may be diminished returns.

DOMS is often the result of a novel stimulus. Which means, it may only be because you have performed a new exercise, or changed rep ranges. Keep in mind that DOMS are often most severe at the start of a block, when cycling in new movements, than at the end when you would expect to be stronger at them.

DOMS can also increase injury risk, not just in the gym, but in day to day life. This is because extreme muscle soreness can force you to change your movement patterns. Going into compound movements such as squats and deadlifts with tight hamstrings, for example, could lead to compensatory muscles and bar paths which could cause injury.

Just because you aren't sore, doesn't mean that you haven't had a good workout. You can still have gained strength or muscular endurance, but not have created inflammation in the form of DOMS. This can be a sign of being well hydrated and controlling other factors of recovery, such as sleep and diet, well.

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Beating Numbers > Being Sore

What is the one thing that you can do right now, cheaply and easily, to grow and get stronger? LOG. YOUR. LIFTS.

Log books act as physical evidence that we are, or aren't, getting better in the gym. They are a much more reliable gauge than going off soreness alone. If you do not force the muscle to grow by providing a new stimulus, be it more weight, or performing more reps/sets with a given weight, it has no reason to grow. This is why following a training block and being aware of exactly what movements you are getting stronger in will always trump 'shocking the muscle' by doing a completely different workout every time you step in the gym. While this may cause more soreness short term, it makes it difficult to track whether actual progress is being made.

Select core, compound movements that you feel in target muscles and get stronger at them over time, it really is that easy!

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Conclusion

In conclusion, while you probably shouldn't worry about DOMS, it shouldn't be the goal of your session. Focus on feeling exercises in the target muscles, and getting stronger at exercises over time. This is where log booking comes in useful.

Outside of the gym, but yourself in the best position to recover from training. Eat enough calories, especially from protein, get enough sleep and give yourself rest days as needed.

DOMS are most extreme in newbie lifters, or people who have taken time away from the gym. Don't panic if you are almost unbearably sore after every session at first, your body will adapt!

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Recovery Essentials

About the Author

Savannah Westerby, BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. IG:@savannahwesterby
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