At Central Athlete, we have clients who come to us with varying goals. Some individuals want to lose weight, get stronger, or get out of pain. Generally, though, most of our clients simply want to live well and prosper, and make health and fitness a consistent part of their life. While adhering to a set of basic lifestyle guidelines can help someone live a long and healthy life, the people who work with us typically want more. This is where a progressive fitness program comes into play, and this is also where today’s topic of interest enters the conversation: delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS.) In this week’s article, we will be discussing what DOMS is, how it works on a physiological level, and how it can play a part in an individual’s fitness journey.
What is Soreness?
Muscle soreness is the varying levels of discomfort, an individual may feel in their muscles after exercise. For example, a novice trainee may enter the gym for the first time in years and perform five sets of 10 ring rows. The next day, said trainee may not be able to extend their arms without some discomfort. This discomfort is caused by the breakdown and tearing of muscle tissue from the prior training session. All in all, this uncomfortable sensation is what most individuals who have practiced some sort of fitness, would call soreness.
How Does it Work?
There is an abundance of research trying to identify what happens to a muscle’s physiology when it trains under resistance, and why it becomes sore. Evidence has suggested the following conclusions.
1: “Eccentric activities induce micro-injury at a greater frequency and severity than other types of muscle actions.” (1)
This means that whenever we lengthen our muscles under some sort of resistance, there’s a much higher chance that we’ll induce muscle damage compared to any other type of muscle contraction. The lengthening of muscles, also known as eccentric contractions can be achieved when you lower yourself into the bottom of a squat, or from the top of a pull-up. It’s these types of contractions that will likely promote more muscle damage and possible soreness.
2: “It has been shown that muscle damage is not obligatory for hypertrophic adaptations.” (2)
This finding essentially debunks the humorous saying of “no pain, no gain.” Research shows that individuals don't need to experience muscle soreness, or induce muscle damage to promote hypertrophic effects in their musculature. In fact, evidence suggests that any anabolic effects from damaging forms of exercise would simply be additive, and not causative of muscle growth or strengthening. The evidence goes so far as to say that too much muscle damage can actually promote negative effects on performance and recovery.
“Severe EIMD (exercise-induced muscle damage) reduces force-producing capacity by 50% or more.” (2)
Additionally, in extreme cases, too much muscle damage can induce rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo for short) where muscle damage is so severe that myoglobin is released into the bloodstream, dramatically increasing the probability of kidney damage and possible kidney failure.
How Does Soreness Affect One’s Fitness Journey?
At Central Athlete, the clients’ program is designed with several considerations: Their previous fitness experience, applicable training age, temperament, capabilities, and most importantly, their goals. While each client’s program is designed specifically for them, the vast majority of our clients’ programs follow general principles of progressive overload to help them improve their physical capabilities. Now, while the research shows that muscle damage isn’t necessary for muscle adaptation, oftentimes in a resistance training program with an emphasis on progressive overload, muscle damage and soreness are a natural byproduct.
If an individual wants to achieve a strict pronated pull-up, and they can’t successfully perform one, at some point in their resistance training, they’ll need to perform controlled eccentrics to strengthen the musculature necessary to eventually perform a concentric pull-up. So while muscle soreness isn’t always a necessary part of one’s fitness journey, depending upon one’s goals, it may be a necessary component.
At the end of the day, the prescription always comes back to the individual. With an experienced coach and a personalized program, soreness levels can be properly maintained and well managed. Some individuals love the sensation of soreness. They believe it to be a byproduct of a tough training session, while others might have lower comfortability levels with the phenomenon and may find the sensation to be a reason to skip training. Neither side is right or wrong but should be taken into consideration when building a personalized fitness plan. At Central Athlete, consistency and compliance are two determinants of success, therefore if soreness is keeping an individual from completing their training plan, it’s an important topic to be addressed. This is why the consultative process is crucial not only for the coach/client relationship but also to ensure the training plan supports the needs of each client.
If you’re an individual who is looking for a more intentional training plan that meets you where you are currently and progresses you forward in a personalized manner, schedule a free strategy session with a Central Athlete coach today!