Across the fitness industry, muscle soreness is often championed as an indication of a hard and effective workout.
But is this analysis of soreness correct?
What causes DOMS?
Muscle soreness, or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) has been studied for a long time. However researchers do not yet fully understand the mechanism that leads to it. But there does appear to be 3 training practices that are likely to cause DOMS:
1. Performing a new exercise / type of exercise.
2. Performing large amounts of eccentric exercise.
(The eccentric is the lowering portion of a lift)
3. Significantly increasing the workload on an exercise.
Does Soreness = Growth?
Soreness may occur after a productive workout, especially one in which you hit a PR (putting the muscles under a higher stress than they have experienced to date). But a lack of soreness does not mean the workout was not productive.
How do I know?
I've had clients double their strength without ever so much as feeling a bit tender a few times. I personally also rarely ever get DOMS, because I manage my training stress appropriately. I certainly am never unable to walk up stairs after leg day.
If you are constantly sore after training and think you should wear that as a badge of honour, you're mistaken. Extreme and chronic soreness is a sign you have no idea what you're doing, and it is a hinderance to gains, as it makes it harder to train consistently.
How to Treat Sore Muscles
You don't! The soreness is part of the inflammation process, which leads to strength adaptations. This is assuming that you made yourself slightly sore as a by-product of intelligent training, and not cripplingly sore from something dumb like Murph or 1000 bodyweight squats.
This means no ice and no anti-inflammatories. If you really want the soreness to go away, the best option is to eat and sleep well and do some light activity like walking. These three things combined will speed the healing and adaptation process.
Don't chase soreness, and don't train like a numbskull masochist. If you get sore every now and then after a PR, it's part of the process. If you're chronically sore, then you're messing up. Contact me if you need advice.