- Your muscles being sore after a workout isn’t a good indicator of progress
- You can and should workout when sore, with a caveat
- Walking and heating pads are key for reducing soreness after a workout
When I first started lifting weights, if you weren’t sore the next day you were a pussy.
Your muscles being sore after a workout was a badge of honor.
Well that’s what the bodybuilders were telling me.
What I didn’t know at the time was there’s a difference between training as a natural (like me) and training when you’re jabbing yourself in the butt.
That tiny tidbit of information was lost somewhere.
Workouts while taking steroids is a completely different animal than being au natural. The main difference is recovery.
But to be fair to them, soreness is part of the game, it’s just not the goal. At some point in your lifting career you will be sore. But there are limits to it and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
So let’s start with the biggest question…
Does Soreness Mean Muscle Growth?
We’ve all seen the memes…
And taken us right back to our humble gym beginnings as you NEED to be sore after a workout.
I mean something this steeped in bodybuilding lore must be true, right?
Unfortunately for the memes, it’s not.
Sure when you first started lifting weights or when you came back from a long time off like a pandemic might cause (thanks covid) your muscles will be sore after a workout more so than normal.
As you workout consistently, the soreness becomes less and less due to your body doing something it excels at…adapting. If you constantly pushed for soreness, the amount of volume would always need to be ever increasing.
Muscle guru Brad Schoenfeld stated that “although Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS aka soreness) may provide a general indication that some degree of damage to muscle tissue has occurred, it cannot be used as a definitive measure of the phenomenon”.
Basically, it’s a shitty indicator of progress.
It is, however, a great indicator of fatigue and that your next workout for that body part is going to be terrible.
Muscle is stimulated in the gym, but it grows at rest.
And the only way for it to grow is for your body to pull itself out of that fatigue hole with proper rest and recovery. If you can’t pull yourself out, no growth.
Which is why a system like Reps in Reserve is such a good thing to add to your workout.
If you’re constantly pushing for that soreness your fatigue hole is going to be so deep you’ll be digging to the other side of the earth or if you are a flat earther you’ll just fall into the abyss and never make any progress.
What Are Signs of Muscle Growth?
When it comes to fat loss, the signs you’re making progress are pretty self explanatory.
Is the number between your toes or your belly measurements going down? That’s progress.
Do you look visibly leaner or do your clothes fit a little looser? That’s progress.
Fat loss is fast so measuring it is easy.
Muscle building is the tortoise to the fat loss hare.
Since muscle growth is slower weekly pictures aren’t going to show you anything.
The scale might go up or it might stay the same. Hell, if you are trying to lose fat at the same time you might see the scale go down as well. Another crappy indicator of progress.
My client Rohit, added 9lbs of muscle while dropping 9lbs of fat and his scale weight barely budged.
If you don’t have the means to get a dexa scan every 3 months to see if you’re making gainz, here are the best ways to know you are making progress.
- Getting stronger in the 6-30 rep range
- Taking measurements around the areas you are trying to grow.
The hypertrophy rep range is anywhere from 6-30 reps. Less than 6 reps is more nervous system and pure strength focused because the volume needs to grow muscle aren’t there.
Higher than 30 reps just doesn’t provide the tension on the muscles before your arms would fall off or your joints would be inflamed from doing so many reps.
So if you can see an upward trend in this rep range in a certain exercise, this is a good indirect indicator of muscle gain.
If you think about it, if you can bench 185lbs now, but in 6 months you can bench 225 for the same amount of reps, you’ll have gained muscle, right?
You would have had to. But that’s not to say if you don’t add weight to the bar every week you didn’t build. There’s multiple avenues of progressive overload which also mean muscle gain.
Another good indicator is taking measurements around the areas you are trying to grow. If they go up, it’s a good indicator you are building muscle.
Check out my ass measurements as an example.
In this time frame I added 3 inches to my ass AND my Romanian Deadlift went up X lbs. Tk.
Safe to say my cheeks are clapping now when I walk.
And this statue may or maynot have been modeled after me.
So if you are trying to grow a certain body part, measure it weekly and watch the trends of the weight on the bar.
Is It Ok To Exercise With Sore Muscles?
While you might not want to, exercising while sore is your best option to relieve the broken glass feeling within your muscles…with one caveat.
You need to pull out… I mean pull back the volume. Definitely pull back on volume. Pulling out is just great life advice.
This way you aren’t digging that fatigue hole deeper but still getting the stimulus of the exercise.
If you keep everything the same, you’re just going to dig that fatigue hole deeper and get lost in it, along with your gainz.
Pull back on volume to allow your body to repair itself.
How To Reduce Muscle Soreness After A Workout
When it comes to reducing muscle soreness there’s two techniques I use and recommend my online coaching clients use:
Heating pads/warm baths
The goal of these modalities is to bring blood to the afflicted muscles. Within the blood comes nutrients and allows for a shorter soreness duration.
We’ve all had those post-leg day feelings of needles in our quads when you get up from sitting for a while.
But after a few mins of tin man walking everything feels just a bit better. Adding walks or light bike riding is just a way to do this on purpose.
Heating pads or warm baths are another route to ease the hell in your sore muscles. One study put participants into warm water (100°F) for 30 minutes post workout. This bath leads to a decrease in inflammation.
Now, you might not want to sit in a soup of your own germs so this is where the heating pad comes in. Same effect, less soup-like.
Wrap It Up B
Your muscles being sore after a workout isn’t the progress indicator you should be focusing on but it does happen from time to time.
You can workout when you are sore and you should absolutely move around. It’ll shorten the duration and make life just a wee bit more enjoyable unless you enjoy the feeling of glass shards in your muscles.
When it comes to muscle growth focus on progressive overload and measurements around the muscles you are trying to grow.
Within the workout it might not seem like much adding just one rep, but over time that shit adds up to 10 more reps and 10’s of pounds added to the bar.