Muscle Soreness and How It Is Related To Gains

Author:Jyoti Dabas (N.D.), Director of Naturopathy, Founding Director at INFS

Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the pain you feel after 8-48 hours of exercising. It is more prominent when you try a new exercise or change your exercise routine. Eccentric movements generate more muscle soreness than Concentric and Isometric movements (‘eccentric movements’ is when your muscles are lengthened under tension) (Ref1). The severity of DOMS reduces with repeated training of the particular muscle group (Ref2).

Extent of DOMS also varies widely between individuals which can be a result of multiple factors including training protocol, genetics, diet, sleep, etc. Women are noted to suffer more from DOMS (this is not the rule as individual genetics and estrogen levels can turn this the other way), but women unanimously recover faster from DOMS than men (Ref3).

DOMS and Hypertrophy (aka Muscle Gains)Do DOMS have a causal relationship with hypertrophy? Theoretically there are arguments on both sides (Ref4) where those in favour argue that the DOMS are indicative of muscle damage which is one of the primary basis of hypertrophy while those against state that firstly, muscle damage does not necessarily produce soreness (Ref5) and that soreness can lead to reduced frequency and therefore volume which ultimately inversely affects hypertrophy. Both sides have supporting studies that bolster their claim. 

What this means for You?For the trainee, your genetics (Ref6) might make you largely immune to DOMS which doesn’t mean that you will not gain muscles. There are 3 noted ways to hypertrophy, namely volume, metabolic damage and structural damage. DOMS is considered an indicator of the last factor while you can always play on the first two. If you are one of those who are highly susceptible to DOMS, you need to manage your routine so that your DOMS are not so severe that you have to miss your workouts. Progress slower, train frequently and over time your body will adapt to the routine and DOMS will not be a hindrance anymore. 

Ref1: Clarkson, PM, Byrnes, WC, McCormick, KM, Turcotte, LP, and White, JS. Muscle soreness and serum creatine kinase activity following isometric, eccentric, and concentric exercise. Int. J. Sports Med. 7: 152-155, 1986.

Ref2: Clarkson, PM, Nosaka, K, and Braun, B. Muscle function after exercise-induced muscle damage and rapid adaptation. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 24: 512-520, 1992

Ref3: Oosthuyse, Tanja, and Andrew Bosch. “The Effect of Gender and Menstrual Phase on Serum Creatine Kinase Activity and Muscle Soreness Following Downhill Running.” Antioxidants 6.1 (2017): 16. Web.


Ref5: “Delayed-onset muscle soreness does not reflect the magnitude of eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.”

Ref6: “CCL2 and CCR2 polymorphisms are associated with markers of exercise-induced skeletal muscle damage.”

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