I believe that we can agree on one thing:
Feeling sore a day or two after a good workout at the gym is one of the BEST feelings in the world.
I know, I know it sounds weird and twisted, especially when you tell your non-fitness friends.
They all immediately react thinking that I’m a masochist for enjoying the level of pain and discomfort that muscle soreness offers.
However, it’s not really the pain that I enjoy, but rather the ONE thing that a strong muscle soreness represents:
A GOOD and productive workout.
We all have those days, though, where we give it our 105% in the gym.
Workout like I’ve never worked out before!
I lift like there is no day tomorrow!
I sweat so much that I can fill up a swimming pool…twice!
Ahem, you get the point.
I wake up the next day, expecting to be so sore that I can’t even get out of my bed. We’re talking rendered-immobile-sore.
But as I open my eyes and move around I notice that I’m actually not sore at all.
I’m totally fine.
This immediately triggers a sense of sadness and regret in my brain thinking that I haven’t really had a good workout and completely wasted a good training session at the gym.
I feel incomplete. Like, I’ve done something wrong.
The next time I go to the gym and I train ever harder, even longer, more concentrated, even more intense.
I even make a motivational playlist on spotify.
I make the gym my own bitch!
By this point I have so much testosterone pumping in my veins that I start transforming into Hu-… OK, ok, maaaybe I over-exaggerated here, a bit.
But you get what I’m trying to say.
Next morning – Nothing.
But here’s the bad thing:
Not only did I not feel any muscle soreness, not only was I extremely sad because of it, but I was potentially over-training when working out, which can be detrimental and lead to muscle loss.
This raises the question “Is soreness actually required for muscle growth?”
Well, yes and no. Stay with me!
The medical reason behind delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is “…a common result of physical activity that stresses the muscle tissue beyond what it is accustomed to”.
If you want to learn more about muscle soreness check out the video below, everything is really well explained and depicted with a cool cartoon:
This is one of the main reasons why when you’re first starting to workout, the next day is always the most painful one.
Subsequent workouts are less of a challenge for the body, which is exactly why soreness tends to decrease over time.
If you have been training for years, chances are you’re probably feeling some to none soreness the next day.
This doesn’t mean that your muscles aren’t growing, but rather it means that your body is not being shocked the same way as they used to. Because they have adapted to your workout.
However, that might be a bad thing as well.
According to the infamous Arnold Schwarzenegger the fundamental element that pushes muscle growth is shock – muscle stress.
This doesn’t mean literal stress but rather doing something different, something that the muscle is not used to, something that, as Arnold says:
“Makes your body wonder what the hell is going on here?”
The lack of DOMS, or soreness, indicates that your muscles have become accustomed to your current workout and that it’s time for you to change things up.
The goods news is that there are many things that you can apply to your workout that will help you confuse the crap out of your muscles and make them grow.
I like to follow something that I like to call the “Stairs model”.
Here is how it works:
Try and imagine a set of stairs.
And at the top of those stairs you have your final objective, which in our case is increasing the weight of the exercise that you are used to doing.
In order to reach the final objective you need to climb through the steps that lead to the top.
If you try and jump over the stairs you might trip over and end up flat on your face.
Follow the steps one by one and you will reach to the final objective.
I know. Pretty cool analogy, right?
Increasing the weight of your exercises is one of the simplest ways that you can ensure maintained muscle stress.
Some of the other ways I am going to mention later on, but first let’s take a look at the stairs model.
Usually the Stairs model involves 5 stairs:
Stair #1: Increasing the range of motion (ROM) of the exercise.
Keep in mind that one of the main drivers of muscle growth, and interestingly muscle soreness, is eccentric movement or a lengthening contraction.
What this means is that the most physical stress is applied to your muscle when weight is applied to it while it is lengthened.
This is why the first and most important step is to always make sure that you increase the ROM so that you get the best out of the eccentric movement – thus pushing your muscles to grow.
If you want to learn more about how your range of motion affects muscle soreness I strongly recommend you check out Jeff Cavaliere from AthleanX who explains it perfectly in his video:
Stair #2: Control the weight
Both when you are lowering the weight (eccentric movement) and when you are lifting the weight.
Make sure that you squeeze the muscle at the top of the movement.
Stair #3: Burnout sets after your working sets.
I love burnout sets because they really leave you feeling destroyed – both mentally and physically.
After you are done with your final working set (8-12 reps), lower the weight with about 30-40% and just pump out as many repetition as you possibly can.
Stair #4: Negative sets for monster gains.
Negative sets are probably one of the most powerful ways you can push your muscles out of their comfort zone.
You would want to increase the weight with 30-40% of your working set maximum. You will probably need somebody to help you lift the wait.
On the way down (again eccentric contraction) you are going to use all of the force that you have left in your body to control the weight as it’s being lowered.
Your friend then helps you lift it back to its starting position and then you repeat the whole process a couple of more times.
This leaves your muscles begging you to stop!
Always make sure that you have warmed up beforehand, because if you haven’t you are only risking an injury.
Stair 5: Increasing the weight
When you have exhausted all of your other options the only thing that you are left with is increasing the average weight of your working sets – making sure that you can still carry out 8-12 repetitions with the new weight.
Once you have reached the 5th and final step you go back to the bottom and start all over.
Make sure that you change some of the stairs’ order to ensure that your muscles don’t go back to their comfort zone.
Another way that can help you shock your muscles is by alternating your exercises. You will need to make sure that you do not have the same consecutive workouts one after another as your body is just going to get used to the repetitive regime.
Not only is this going to diminish muscle soreness but it might even put you in a plateau, and that’s quite literally the least desirable option you have available.
Obviously, you only have a limited amount of exercises for every muscle group, which makes it close to impossible to change up your workout every week. Just make sure that the workouts are not completely identical and that there is some variation to them.
Creatine monohydrate is a well known amino acid that helps the person using the supplement increase overall workout intensity.
By pushing your muscles to their very-existing maximum capacity you will definitely pull your muscles away from the comfort zone and into the GAINS ZONE.
Sorry, I just had to.
Another supplement that you can consider is Beta alanine (Check out this one – basically the best on the market).
Beta alanine, just like creatine, is going to help you boost your overall workout intensity and performance. This is actually one of the most powerful pre-workout supplements on the market. Quite literally you can expect a thingily sensation.
While muscle soreness can be a good indicator that you need to change up your workout, it can sometimes get in the way and reduce your training potential. It’s good to get them, but it’s even better when you get them for a very short period of time.
While it is true that you don’t need DOMS in order to build muscle mass and it’s not the end of the world if you stop feeling sore after a good workout, you should use this lack of sensation as a benchmark that tells you that you need to “spice up” and change your current workout regime because your body is getting used to it.
Shock is one of the main drivers of muscle growth, the moment you start losing this element of surprise, you will start noticing a decline in muscle development and soon you will experience a muscle plateau, which is every fitness enthusiasts’ worst nightmare.
Thank you so much for reading this week’s article! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it.
Drop a like and a share to spread the love and until next week guys!