DOMS: Does muscle soreness mean muscle growth

I am going to train so hard in the gym that I will not be able to get out of bed tomorrow morning, as they say, “No Pain, No Gain”. Most of us believe that the more pain our muscles are in, the bigger they will grow. That pain you feel the day after is commonly known as “DOMS”, which stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. DOMS is classified as a type I muscle strain and presents with tenderness or stiffness to palpation and movement. The tenderness is concentrated in the muscle that was focused on during the workout and it will progressively get worse 24-48 hours post exercise.

Muscle Growth Factors:

According to research, there are 3 factors that allow muscles to grow. Firstly, mechanical tension where we are lifting as heavy as possible. Secondly, metabolic stress where our muscles are under constant tension and we are chasing that “pump”. Lastly, the one we are focusing on in this blog, muscle damage which is microtrauma to the muscle belly which causes DOMS.

Is muscle damage necessary?

What we want to know is, does damaging the muscle, which leads to DOMS, allow us to grow our muscles? A study done by Sikorski et al. (2013) found that some muscles, like your shoulders, do not experience the same degree of muscle soreness compared to muscle groups like legs and biceps. However, we do know that if we train our shoulders they will grow, so therefore, we can not say that muscle soreness equals muscle growth.

Another example that we all may have experienced: have you ever gone for a long-distance run? If you have, you would have felt some stiff, sore legs the next couple of days. Now, we know that running long distances does not help us build super big muscles at all. So, again we can not say that muscle soreness equals muscle growth.

Muscle Soreness and Training:

Now that we know that muscle soreness does not necessarily mean muscle growth, let’s look at the effect muscle soreness has on our training abilities. We are going to focus on 3 different studies.

  1. Study 1: A study performed in 2012 by Trost et al. looked at pain-related fear and motor behaviour. They found that there was a reduction in muscle activation in the targeted muscles when muscle soreness was present from previous workouts.
  2. Study 2: A study performed by Paulsen et al. (2012), looked at changes in muscle function when exercise-induced muscle damage was present. Paulsen and co found that there was a reduction of up to 50% in force production in the targeted muscle.
  3. Study 3: A study done by Krentz and Farthing in 2010 looked at the effect of a 20-day intense eccentric training protocol. They found that there was an increase in muscle damage with decreased rest, which led to a decrease in muscle strength.

So, what we know so far is that muscle soreness does not equal muscle growth and that when there is muscle soreness, performance decreases.


How to prevent muscle soreness?

There are a few different ways muscle soreness can be minimised, which will ultimately lead to maximised performance. Firstly, focus on concentric and isometric contractions more regularly as eccentric contractions (lengthening of the muscle) is directly linked to increased muscle soreness. You can also look at decreasing the intensity and duration of your workouts and slowly build up as you adapt to your workouts. Some researchers recommend low-intensity exercise, which helps remove waste products from the body. Lastly, some secondary options can include cryotherapy, massage, and stretching.

It is important to remember that some people will experience muscle soreness when they have not exercised in a long time. When this occurs, it is important to have adequate rest and not train when the muscles are still sore as this may hinder your performance.

If you have any questions on any of the above or feel you need some additional guidance with your exercise program please feel free to contact us on 9244 5580 or alternatively you can visit our website at

Eben Gericke

Exercise Physiologist 


Krentz, J., & Farthing, J. (2010). Neural and morphological changes in response to a 20-day intense eccentric training protocol. European Journal Of Applied Physiology110(2), 333-340. doi: 10.1007/s00421-010-1513-8

Lewis, P., Ruby, D., & Bush-Joseph, C. (2012). Muscle Soreness and Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness. Clinics In Sports Medicine31(2), 255-262. doi: 10.1016/j.csm.2011.09.009

Paulsen, G., Mikkelsen, U., Raastad, T., & Peake, J. (2012). Leucocytes, cytokines and satellite cells: what role do they play in muscle damage and regeneration following eccentric exercise?. Exercise Immunology Review, (18), 42-97.

Schoenfeld, B. (2010). The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research24(10), 2857-2872. doi: 10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181e840f3

Sikorski, E., Wilson, J., Lowery, R., Joy, J., Laurent, C., & Wilson, S. et al. (2013). Changes in Perceived Recovery Status Scale Following High-Volume Muscle Damaging Resistance Exercise. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research27(8), 2079-2085. doi: 10.1519/jsc.0b013e31827e8e78

Trost, Z., France, C., Sullivan, M., & Thomas, J. (2012). Pain-related fear predicts reduced spinal motion following experimental back injury. Pain153(5), 1015-1021. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2012.02.001