You worked out your chest yesterday but these days you are not as sore as you were when you had started working out. Does that mean that your gains have reduced from when you were a beginner?
You thought you lifted more weight than previous weeks, then why are you not ‘feeling’ it the next day?
Let me start by telling you that you have nothing to worry about!
Your sore muscles are not an indication of your muscle growth.
When you workout, your muscles get torn. It is when you are recovering, that is even upto 48 hours after your workout, your muscle tissues rebuild themselves to be stronger than they were before. This is the simple theory of muscle building and strength training.
“I tear up my #muscles everyday in my #workout and my body builds them back up #stronger than yesterday. #Wolverine has nothing on me!” – Click to Tweet
Types of Muscle Soreness
There are 2 types of soreness that are related to your workout: acute muscle soreness (AMS) and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). AMS is what you feel during the workout and immediately after. It can occur from chemical buildup in the muscle and muscle fatigue. The muscle damage from AMS is repaired by the body and they are rebuilt stronger so that they can withstand more in the future.
The soreness where we ‘feel’ it the next day, is DOMS. Earlier DOMS was related to lactic buildup but new research suggests it is nothing more than micro-tears in the connective tissues of your muscles. (Ref1)
The DOMS type muscle soreness caused by micro-tears in the connective fibres of your muscles also eventually rebuild stronger. But it is a poor indicator of the actual muscle breakdown that has happened. That is, your muscle tear during workout DOES NOT ALWAYS lead to DOMS (Ref2).
Why does it happen when I change exercise or do certain types of exercises?
You will remember the time when you had joined the gym and your legs or shoulders or arms used to be sore for days. When you take up new exercise, not just weight lifting, any new movement that demands your muscle to work at a higher intensity in a plane that they are not used to, the connective tissues are the first ones that need to rebuild. These connective tissues are the ones that cause the soreness.
You might find yourself favouring one exercise over another because when you do that exercise, you can really ‘feel’ it the next day?
Consider the Dumbbell flyes, most people like to do this for the same reason. But this exercise is mainly to stretch your body so that your chest muscles can grow more. So they are important and help in muscle building, after all, all that soreness is not for nothing. But do they justify your intense love for them. No.
It is good to do them for flexibility, balance and increasing the load bearing capacity of main muscles but they are not directly supporting your muscle growth.
Some of these exercises that are notorious in inducing soreness like dumbbell flyes, hamstring curl and even running downhill. These are eccentric exercises, i.e. they lengthen a muscle while keeping it under stress (Ref3).
These eccentric exercises are not the answer to your muscle building prayers. For muscle growth, focus on doing compound, i.e. multi-joint exercises and try to increase the weight that you lift. Lower the number of reps and take your rest days seriously!
So, how would I know if I had an effective workout?
You will know if you can increase your intensity in the next session either by
- doing more number of reps with the same weight, or
- increasing the weight that you are lifting, or
- reducing the rest interval
So, don’t worry if you are not sore the next day, your muscles are still getting stronger if you have trained hard and are eating enough proteins. 😉
Read More: Are You Eating Enough Proteins?
Ref1: Armstrong, RB. Mechanisms of exercise-induced delayed onset muscular soreness: a brief review”. Medicine and science in sports and exercise Dec 1984; 16 (6): 529–38.
Ref2: Flann KL, et al. Muscle damage and muscle remodelling: no pain, no gain? J Exp Biol. 2011 Feb 15; 214(Pt 4):674-9
Ref3: Eston RG, et al. Eccentric activation and muscle damage: bio-mechanical and physiological considerations during downhill running. Br J Sports Med. 1995 Jun; 29(2): 89-94