Is Muscle Soreness Necessary for Muscle Growth?

By Nick Nilsson
Author of Time-Volume Training


Anybody who has ever touched a weight knows the feeling of muscle soreness.

It happens the first time you do squats or deadlifts...the first time you do negative-only training...the first time you do an exercise you've never done before.

Is muscle soreness necessary for muscle growth?

Ironically enough, as painful as this feeling sometimes is, it can actually be quite addictive! Many people I hear from actively seek out ways to make themselves sore because they love that feeling of soreness. To them, it's an indication that they've made progress...that they've accomplished something in the gym.

Without that soreness to give them feedback, some people feel they haven't really done enough.

This has led to some pretty insane training methods and programs, let me tell you.

But here's the deal...even though I'm personally known for creating unique exercises and programs that no doubt result in a LOT of muscle soreness, the major goal of these unique techniques is NOT to make you sore.

Yes, it's a common side effect, but if I wanted to dole out pain, there are much more targeted ways of doing THAT. Just drop a weight plate on your foot - there's pain for you...lots of soreness, too.

My goal is not to induce soreness but to induce a training effect on the muscles through the application of unique training methods.

Pain is NEVER the goal. Adaptation is the goal.


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So, IS muscle soreness required in order to achieve a muscle-building effect on the body?


Simple as that.

I won't get into all the specifics of HOW muscle soreness comes about (there actually is debate on the mechanisms by which Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness operates) but muscle soreness is simply an indicator that you've done something your body is not used to.

It CAN be an indication that what you've done will result in muscle growth but there is no guarantee. I can make a person sore from doing a set of 100 reps on the bench press but do you think that will result in significant muscle growth? The load simply isn't great enough.

Heck, the most soreness I EVER experienced in all my life didn't even come from weight training! It came from running (and walking) a 20 km race without training for it (back when I was 16 years old and crazy). I was sore all over before I even FINISHED. Two hours later I could hardly move. And I can promise you, I didn't gain a pound of muscle from THAT experience.

I'll be honest with you...I've been weight training about 28 years and I very RARELY get any significant muscle soreness anymore (i.e. the kind that makes you walk funny or have a hard time scratching your nose). It takes a LOT for me to get even mildly sore. All those unique exercises and programs I've done over the years have resulted in muscles that have pretty much seen it all.

Even when I perform an exercise I've never ever done before or done a program that is totally new to me, soreness is never significant.

Yet, my results ARE.

I'll give you a specific example. In my Muscle Explosion muscle-building program, there is a week where you perform ONE exercise 5 days in a row for more than 200 sets (I like to use deadlifts).

Without getting into the specifics of the program, I generally gain about 5 pounds of muscle in this single week alone, just based on this style of training. And even with that extreme workload, I RARELY experience ANY soreness.

Yes, my nervous and muscular systems are pretty well trashed at the end of those 5 days but soreness? Not much to speak of. I'll say it again...soreness is an INDICATOR of the potential for muscle growth NOT a requirement.

Here's another example...any professional athlete.


Do you think an athlete who wants to gain muscle will pursue a program where excessive muscle soreness prevents them from practicing or affects the mechanics of their sport?

Absolutely not. Their coaches wouldn't permit it.

Muscle has no brain. All it knows is when it needs to adapt to a workload greater than what it's accustomed to. A targeted increase in workload will (generally) result in an increase in muscle mass, when all other factors are accounted for (like nutrition, recovery, etc.).

So where does that leave the trainer looking to build muscle?


DO NOT train with muscle soreness as a major goal and DO NOT worry if a training program doesn't immediately make you sore.

Train to improve your performance. Try new techniques, programs and exercises.

You'll get results from overloading your muscles, eating enough quality nutrition to support the muscle-building process and recovering enough between workouts.

Should you train if you have muscle soreness?



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