Pain & Gains

Soreness isn’t necessary for progress

Pain & Gains - Soreness isn’t necessary for progress
I had the best workout last week…I was sore for days…

How many times have you heard a statement like that? Muscle soreness has become the standard by which training and individual workouts are judged. However, does soreness really mean that you had a beneficial, safe and smart workout?

The answer is 100% “NO!” Here are a few reasons why post-training muscle pain isn’t necessary for gain:

Your body’s defense mechanism. Muscle soreness is a sign from your body that you did something you are not used to doing. A new training routine, a new exercise or an exercise you have not done in a long time can trigger muscle soreness. This soreness is essentially a bout of inflammation, your body’s defense mechanism. It’s how your body handles injury. And, as a part of the repair and recovery process, your body increases production of immune cells. These immune cells cause certain pain receptors in your body to be more sensitive, and when you move, the pain receptors are stimulated. This increased sensitivity leads to you feeling sore.

Is it even the muscle? Interestingly, some research shows that the source of the pain is in the connective tissue, rather than the actual muscles themselves.

Exercise types. Do you ever notice that certain exercises get you sore no matter how often you do them? Typically exercises involving some sort of pre-stretch can trigger increased soreness. Movements like Dumbbell Flyes, Cable Crunches on the Physio Ball, Romanian Dead Lifts and Bulgarian Split Squats are some of the biggest culprits.


Many people track their soreness level over the course of a few days, assuming that once the soreness has subsided that the muscle is recovered and is ready for more training. This study from 2000 shows that muscle damage can clear up after a week or less, but the damage to your nervous system can last for 10 days or more.

So, what does this mean for a trainee or trainer? Being sore, stiff or fatigued can feel good and make you feel accomplished, but do not use that as the main indicator of intelligent training, recovery and muscle growth. Instead, ask yourself: Am I getting stronger? Leaner? Are my workouts challenging me? Those questions are better indicators of successful training.


Here are some simple steps to help you to recover efficiently and give your muscles the fuel and time to grow:

1. Train 4-5 days per week with scheduled rest days
2. Be sure to drink at least 70 ounces of water per day
3. Take a high quality fish oil daily
4. Include foam rolling and other soft tissue work before and after each training session
5. Get monthly massage work if possible
6. Eat at least 80 grams of high quality protein daily
7. Include a post-workout recovery shake into your nutrition plan
8. Hire a highly qualified trainer to work with or write your training programs
9. Include adequate recovery between sets of highly explosive movements, sprints or on heavy lifting days to recharge your central nervous system
10. Do not train to muscle failure

Train smart, use your recovery tips and fuel your body with healthy food, and you will get muscle growth and an awesome looking physique.


Crameri RM, Aagaard P, Qvortrup K, Langberg H, Olesen J, Kjaer M. Myofibre
damage in human skeletal muscle: effects of electrical stimulation versus
voluntary contraction. J Physiol. 2007 Aug 15;583(Pt 1):365-80. Epub 2007 Jun 21.
PubMed PMID: 17584833; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2277245.

Deschenes MR, Brewer RE, Bush JA, McCoy RW, Volek JS, Kraemer WJ.
Neuromuscular disturbance outlasts other symptoms of exercise-induced muscle
damage. J Neurol Sci. 2000 Mar 15;174(2):92-9. PubMed PMID: 10727694.

Callie Durbrow

Callie Durbrow is the owner of Durbrow Performance Training and the author of Strong and Sexy in 25 Minutes.

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