Soreness- Good or Bad?

Let us first begin with what soreness is.  Soreness or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) was thought to be caused by lactic acid build up. This is not the case and proven incorrect.  In reality, DOMS is complex and  "appears to be a product of inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the connective tissue elements that sensitize nociceptors and thereby heighten the sensations of pain."


There are certain movements that would increase the probability of DOMS substantially, and they are movements that have a significant eccentric stress.  The eccentric portion or lengthening of the muscles, of a squat is from standing up to lowering into the bottom.  Another example could be the start of a bench press to lowering the bar to the chest.  That is why jumping lunges produce more DOMS than regular lunges.  The eccentric portion has a much greater stress.  Another method is novelty of movement pattern.  If your body feels a new stimulus it will also produce DOMS.  For instance, at EP we have been doing front squats for our knee dominant movement.  If we changed  to a back squat or a lunge than your body would become sore just because of the slight change in movement pattern.  

Many people judge their workout or training session based on how sore they are 24-48 hours later.  There is a commonly held belief that soreness leads to a person's progress, and it does, but to a certain degree.  Soreness and progress are not linearly related.  Meaning if you have maximum soreness, it does not mean you have faster progress.  And if you have minimal soreness, you have slower progress.  In reality, for progress, you just need stimulus.

You might ask if your goal is to lose weight or gain muscle, is soreness needed?  Yes and no, but if you become so sore that you can only workout twice a week without crying before you move, how is that helping you? What if your goal is to get stronger for sport or occupation?  Can an athlete or a military operator afford to be painfully sore and be ready to play optimally or complete their mission without being in pain?  Would it not be more beneficial if you cut back volume in that session and had more frequent workout sessions?  More is not better.  More is just more.   

Soreness is going to happen.  This is not an article to completely bash being sore and if you are, than you did something wrong. No, this article is trying to get across that soreness has a cost and are you willing to pay for that cost.  The more severe your soreness is the more you have to take your recovery seriously.  Train smarter, not harder.


Brad J. Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras, “Is Postexercise Muscle Soreness a Valid Indicator of Muscular Adaptations?” Strength and Conditioning Journal, vol. 35 No. 5 pp. 16-21 (2013)