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"Soreness is not an indicator of growth" Is this True?
Scientific Literature and The Problem of Missing The Forrest Through The Trees
Scientific literature has helped confirm and debunk a lot of the bro-science associated with muscle growth. It wasn’t that long ago that the use of machines were thought of as sub-optimal because “girls use them,” or more likely to cause injury because of the “unnatural range of motion.”
Thankfully, it seems, these ideas have subsided and people with a mind towards the evidence have come out to understand a lot more about their training.
There are times, however, where the scientific literature can cause us to miss the forrest through the trees. Soreness, for example, is one of these instances.
Soreness: What The Evidence Got Right
One of the most useful revelations with soreness is that not getting sore does not mean the muscle isn’t being worked hard enough for growth. In other words, just because you’re not getting sore, doesn’t mean you aren’t growing.
This was a very welcome revelation to the fitness community. The implications helped prevent trainees from wondering, “why am I not getting sore anymore? I must not be growing!” or extrapolating the wrong lessons for coaches such as, “You should switch up exercises often to introduce a novel stimulus, which causes soreness.”
“Soreness ≠ Muscle Growth”
Hey, wait a minute! *shakes fist at clouds* That’s going too far!
The claim that muscle soreness ≠ muscle growth is only true on the most highly technical and semantic way. Yes, these two different things, are different — correct! But what about what’s being implied?
What’s being implied here is “just because you are sore, doesn’t mean you’re stimulating muscle growth.” The only problem with this claim is, is that it’s almost entirely incorrect and here’s why.
If you looked at a list of all the things that cause muscle soreness, they would directly correlate to all the things in the scientific literature for stimulating the growth of the muscle. Is soreness growth? No. But it sure as hell is the aftermath of doing all the things that stimulate muscle growth.
Novelty is often used as the smoking gun to debunk soreness as an indicator that you’re training enough for growth. While that may or may not be true, here is a list of all the other precursors to both soreness and growth.
Control of slowing of the eccentric portion of the lift
Loaded Stretches (typically from a pause at the bottom of the range of motion)
Higher Volume (more work)
Low RIR (training closer to failure)
The Pump (correlative)
Greater Range of Motion
Soreness is, in fact, not muscle growth. But soreness almost certain correlates (nearly 1:1) with all of the things we know stimulate it.