Does Soreness = Muscle Growth?

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Does Soreness = Muscle Growth? - Thomas DeLauer

Muscle Growth Misconception/Cause(s) of DOMS

Even well-conditioned athletes can get DOMS, if they train harder than usual - but as muscles get familiar with a specific stress, they quickly adapt and react much less strongly

Causes of DOMS

There is some evidence that hydrogen ions and reactive oxygen species – both of which increase in concentration during exercise – may contribute to DOMS

Metabolic stress during exercise can cause changes on a structural level at the cell membrane (sarcolemma)

That is, what you think is “muscle soreness” is at least partially (if not more) “connective tissue” soreness

A study published in the The Journal of Physiology had 8 untrained males (22-27 years) perform 210 maximal eccentric contractions with each leg on an isokinetic dynamometer, voluntarily (VOL) with one leg and electrically induced (ES) with the other leg

Assessments from the skeletal muscle were obtained prior to exercise and at 5, 24, 96 and 192 h post exercise - muscle tenderness rose in VOL and ES after 24 h, and did not differ between groups

In contrast, a significant disruption of cytoskeletal proteins (desmin) and a rise of myogenic growth factors (myogenin) occurred only in ES
Intracellular disruption and destroyed Z-lines were markedly more pronounced in ES (40%) compared with VOL (10%)

Likewise, the increase in satellite cell markers [neural cell adhesion molecule (N-CAM) and paired-box transcription factor (Pax-7)] was more pronounced in ES versus VOL

Finally, staining of the intramuscular connective tissue (tenascin C) was increased equally in ES and VOL after exercise

Demonstrating that in human muscle, the delayed onset of muscle soreness was not significantly different between the two treatments despite marked differences in intramuscular histological markers, in particular myofiber proteins and satellite cell markers

“An increase in tenascin C expression in the mid belly of the skeletal muscle in both legs provides further evidence of a potential role for the extracellular matrix in the phenomenon of delayed onset of muscle soreness”

In other words, it demonstrated that at least some of the pain of muscle soreness stems from the connective tissue holding muscle fibers together, not from the actual fibers themselves

That is, what you think is “muscle soreness” is at least partially (if not more) “connective tissue” soreness

**Nerve fibers that transmit pain are located mainly in the connective tissue found between muscle fibers, as well as the junction between the muscle and tendon. In other words, the source of the pain appears to be the connective tissue that helps to bind muscle fibers together, rather than the actual muscle fibers themselves**

Study - Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Researchers found in this study that both high- and low-soreness programs lead to similar gains in muscle strength and size

2 different weekly frequency resistance training (RT) protocols over 8 weeks on muscle strength and muscle hypertrophy in well-trained men. 23 subjects (average age of 26 years) were randomly allocated into the two groups: low frequency or high frequency

The LFRT performed a split-body routine, training each specific muscle group once a week

The HFRT performed a total-body routine, training all muscle groups every session.

Both groups performed the same number of sets (10-15 sets) and exercises (1-2 exercise) per week, 8-12 repetitions maximum (70-80% of 1RM), five times per week

Results showed that both groups improved muscle strength [LFRT and HFRT: bench press = 5.6 kg and 9.7 kg and squat = 8.0 kg and 12.0 kg and lean tissue mass [LFRT and HFRT: total body lean mass = 0.5 kg and 0.8 kg with no difference between groups (bench press, p = 0.168; squat, p = 0.312 and total body lean mass, p = 0.619)


They compared training a muscle once a week with a full-body workout performed five times a week, Monday through Friday

Both groups did the same exercises and the same number of sets, with one key difference

The once-a-week group did two exercises per workout for 5-10 sets per exercise, while the full-body group did 11 exercises for 1-2 sets per exercise.

Subjects in the group that hit each muscle group once a week reported a much higher level of post-exercise muscle soreness

However, the researchers found no significant differences in terms of strength or size gains between the two groups

In other words, both the “low soreness” and “high soreness” training programs increased muscle mass and strength similarly.
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