If my client’s goal is muscle hypertrophy (growth), should they expect soreness after every workout?
A common misconception in the fitness industry is that muscle soreness is an indicator of a great workout. However, muscle soreness is not a prerequisite for muscle growth or a great workout! In fact, muscle soreness should definitely not be your goal. There are a number of theories as to why a person may experience post exercise soreness such as:
- Micro tears in muscle fibers generate calcium leakage and an accumulation of histamines, potassium, prostaglandins and local edema (accumulation of fluid). The edema stimulates the nerve endings, causing the sensation of pain.
- The muscle spasm hypothesis proposes delayed onset muscle soreness is due to ischemia during exercise, which results in an accumulation of a pain-causing substance in the muscle. This pain stimulates reflex muscular contractions that produce more ischemia that contributes to the pain occurring after exercise
- Research indicates that damage to muscles/connective tissue and subsequent soreness are greatly increased as a result of eccentric contractions. Note: Not all exercises place the same type of eccentric stress. Therefore, clients may not experience the same levels of soreness.
Many experts suggest that a certain amount of damage seems to be required for maximum hypertrophy. But the damage need not be so intense that you regularly encounter soreness! During the initial phase of training, some degree of soreness will most likely be experienced. To minimize soreness, warm up before exercise, do not over emphasize eccentric contractions and begin with a low to moderate whole body approach, progressing to greater intensities.
To learn more about intensity manipulation check out the book Designing Resistance Training Programs by Steven Fleck and William Kraemer.
A little stiffness is not a bad sign. However, if your client ends up experiencing soreness after each workout, the program needs adjustment!