Do you know the situation when the next day, after an intense workout for a couple of days, everything hurts? DOMS is a syndrome of delayed muscle pain. Many consider it to be a sign of practical training and muscle growth.

However, is muscle pain essential for muscle progress and growth? Are training sessions without subsequent muscle soreness ineffective? This article will learn all about the factors that affect muscle growth, delayed muscle pain syndrome, and its importance for muscle building.

How do muscles grow?

Muscle hypertrophy

One of the human body’s exceptional properties is its adaptability, which also applies to muscles. Through lifestyle changes, muscle tissue gets the opportunity to grow, although each of us grows muscles in our way and at our own pace. Through strength training, the need to adapt is awakened in the body, which leads to muscle hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is an increase in the volume of an organ or tissue due to the expansion of its constituent elements. Strength training is one of the most common ways to develop more extensive, more prominent muscles. There are two types of muscle hypertrophy- myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic.

what is muscle hypertrophy

With myofibrillar hypertrophy, muscle tissue increases, or rather myofibrils , its contracting part. Without them, muscle movement would be impossible, and myofibril hypertrophy increases strength and speed. This is due to an increase in myofibrils in the muscles, which increases fiber strength and density. 

The second type of hypertrophy is sarcoplasmic , which increases energy reserves and endurance. Between the bundles of muscle tissue is sarcoplasm, a fluid that fills the space between the muscles’ tissues. During sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, the volume of this fluid in the muscles increases. Muscles appear more prominent, but this type of hypertrophy does not increase tissue or strength. 

What affects muscle growth?

It has been known for years that muscle growth occurs when lifting heavyweights. One of the pioneers of strength training was Milon of Croton. His workouts will surely surprise many bodybuilders even today. Milo was an ancient wrestler and won the Olympic Games 6 times in a row. What was his secret? He lifted and carried a newborn calf on his shoulders. He did this training for over 4 years, and the calf turned into a full-grown bull. The calf training was strength training. Due to the animal’s growth, the load gradually increased, which led to an increase in the wrestler’s muscle mass. This story is about 2600 years, and since then, knowledge of muscle work has increased immeasurably.

The muscle growth process can be divided into three stages – from stimulation to altering muscle protein synthesis. The process is divided into [4] :

  1. initial stimulus,
  2. molecular signaling,
  3. synthesis of muscle proteins.
how muscles grow

According to scientists, the second stage is molecular signaling, that is, molecular processes are activated by training and are involved in increasing muscle protein synthesis. These signals lead to a temporary increase in the rate of protein synthesis in muscles. Simply put, you start exercising, and the increased exercise triggers signals that lead to a higher rate of protein synthesis. When it comes to muscle pain, the first stage – the initial stimulus – plays the most significant role.

According to scientists, the initial stimulus includes 3 factors

  • Mechanical stress
  • Metabolic stress
  • Muscle damage

With mechanical stress in muscles, in addition to mechanical changes, chemical changes also occur. Mechanical stress is involved in cellular signaling, which turns on the mTOR protein (mechanistic target of Rapamycin). In the body, mTOR functions to coordinate the metabolism and eukaryotic growth of cells with inputs from the environment, such as growth factors and nutrients. [12] [13]

Another factor is metabolic stress, which is involved in muscle growth through metabolites in the blood. There are several, and they include creatine, lactate, and also inorganic phosphate. Accumulation of byproducts can be due to “cell swelling” – an increase in the muscles’ water. This is another name for intracellular hydration, and according to several studies, hydration-controlled swelling can increase protein synthesis and decrease proteolysis (protein breakdown).

Muscle damage is an inflammatory response in which several types of white blood cells are trapped in the muscle’s damaged part to take care of the damage. As a result of the release of leukocytes, a process associated with the growth of “satellite cells” is triggered. They are activated through exercise, and their role is to bind to muscles, thereby supporting muscle fiber recovery and growth. Thus, from this point of view, it can be argued that muscle damage also has a specific effect on muscle growth.

what affects muscle hypertrophy

By mechanical stress, we mean strength training when the muscles are stressed, and muscle damage is ultimately the training result. It is a muscle rupture that leads to DOMS, delayed muscle pain ( DOMS, DOMS ). 

Muscle pain and muscle growth

What is DOMS?

The abbreviation DOMS refers to the effect of training or other physical activity in which cracks form in the muscle tissue. Scientists say that delayed muscle pain occurs 12-24 hours after exercise and peaks on the first or third day. Everyone’s body is unique, so muscle pain has a different duration. 

You have been exercising regularly for several months, maybe years, and notice that you do not feel muscle pain for a while. Does this mean that you are doing something wrong? DOMS mainly affects two groups of people – beginners and people who have made changes to their workouts. You remember for sure that in the beginning, your muscles ached regularly, and gradually it disappeared. When you make changes to your workout, there is also a change in load and higher adaptive response. 

As mentioned, muscle pain after exercise can vary. The main symptoms are muscle soreness and stiffness. However, there are also symptoms to look out for, such as decreased muscle range of motion, muscle swelling, and tenderness when the muscle is touched. 

Is muscle pain an indicator of muscle growth?

After the introductory chapters, we answer the key question – is muscle pain an indicator of muscle growth? The expectation that muscles will have higher weight and strength will logically trigger a response from the body. Conversely, with regular exercise at approximately the same intensity, muscle pain may not appear at all. The body can adapt to increased stress. Therefore, if you train steadily for several months, your body will get used to it. 

the duration of muscle pain after exercise

Another essential fact: DOMS does not affect all parts of the muscles in the same way. Examples are the forearms and deltoids (shoulders), after training, which may not develop typical DOMS. This is also supported by a 2013 study that found shoulder muscle pain was not similar to biceps or leg muscle pain.

muscle pain training

Three different studies, conducted in 2010 and 2012, examined the link between muscle pain and muscle growth. A 2010 study focused on 20 days of intense training, and as a result, there was an increase in muscle damage associated with reduced rest time. What were the consequences? This led to a breakdown. One 2012 study found that muscle activation was diminished due to DOMS from a previous workout. Again the exact opposite result. The most interesting finding came from another 2012 study that looked at muscles’ functionality with a sore throat… Like the previously mentioned studies, the result is surprising as the study participants showed a 50% reduction in strength. Of course, there is a large amount of research on this or a similar topic, but three independent sources lead to the same conclusion – muscles do not grow faster with DOMS.

muscle pain and muscle growth

On the other hand, 2010 studies show that muscle pain can contribute to muscle growth to a certain extent. Powerlifters use higher weights during training and longer breaks. On the other hand, some bodybuilders train with medium weights and shorter breaks between sets. Which option is best for muscle hypertrophy is not entirely clear, although both work well for gaining muscle mass. As mentioned, in addition to metabolic stress and mechanical pressure, muscle damage is also present during muscle growth… Therefore, muscle damage is not the only prerequisite for muscle building, as even training without subsequent muscle soreness causes muscle growth.

To summarize, it can be said that severe muscle pain does not necessarily mean high progress in muscle building, and conversely, minimal or no muscle pain does not necessarily mean slow progress. Genetics, diet, exercise program, and regeneration also affect the development of muscle pain. So, just because your friend brags about severe muscle soreness does not mean that his or her muscle-building progress will be more pronounced. 

There are also the following statements about the absence of a connection between pain in muscles and their growth.

  1. You can make progress after exercising your calves and shoulders without severe muscle pain.
  2. Irregular exercise causes decreased muscle growth and increased muscle pain.
  3. As you increase your training frequency, muscle pain decreases, which can promote muscle growth.
the effect of muscle pain on muscles

After training, however, we also present you with a chapter for those looking for advice on how to get rid of muscle soreness after exercise. We have selected several tips and tricks, ranging from conventional to non-traditional, to support muscle pain reduction [7] [15] [16] :

  1. Hydration – Drinking water before, during, and after exercise has been found to affect men exercising in hot, humid environments. Whether you prefer an air-conditioned gym or run in the park, drinking enough fluids will help you relieve severe muscle pain the next day.
  2. Massage – According to a 2012 study, post-workout massage is effective on muscles. Also, it supports cell repair and function. Recently, one of the most popular massage tools is the massage roller. This is a great, comfortable massage that can help reduce swelling and speed up muscle recovery.
  3. Coffee – The beneficial effects of coffee on muscles have been proven in many studies. Results from one of them even claim a 48% reduction in DOMS after exercise. Also, caffeine also has significant pain-relieving effects.
  4. Cherries – Whether fresh or juiced, cherries contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients. Try drinking cherry juice for a few days as a treatment for sore throat.
  5. Don’t overdo it – this advice may sound vague, but significant training changes are a common cause of muscle soreness. Increase the intensity of the exercise gradually, so you can prevent muscle soreness and, at the same time, improve safety during exercise. Using excessively heavy weights for training will not lead to better results, as building muscle and strength also depends on patience.

You are wondering how best to recover from your workout and get rid of severe muscle pain? 

how to reduce muscle pain

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