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If I understand muscle training theory correctly, you put stress on your muscles, often times going as far as microscopically tearing the muscles up, and then expect the recovery process to make you stronger. Please excuse the gross oversimplification.

Muscle fibre tears can result in pain, otherwise known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. More stress results in more tears, and more pain.

Would there be a relation between the amount of stress put on a muscle and the physiological reaction that rebuilds the muscle stronger afterwards? In other words, when I feel great soreness, should tell myself "well, this is a good sign", or rather "oh grief, I've gone too far"?

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A similar question that you might find interesting: fitness.stackexchange.com/q/811/22 –  Greg Aug 22 '12 at 1:11
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If it's a light amount of soreness, it's a good sign. If it's a significant amount of soreness, you've gone too far. It's quite possible to make strength progress without significant muscle soreness (fatigue is another matter).

There are people who will say that the muscle soreness is necessary, spouting crap like 'no pain, no gain', but those people work themselves to a pretty much constant muscle soreness, while plateauing.

Also, soreness will often be felt near the joints rather than the muscle belly, which is tendon soreness, and not muscle soreness. There's less blood flow to the tendons, so you really don't want much discomfort there at all. If you feel the soreness near the joints, but not in the muscle belly (which isn't uncommon among certain lifters), you're making zero progress in strength while damaging your joints.

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I had no idea you could feel soreness in your tendons. Thanks for mentioning it! –  mkaito Aug 22 '12 at 1:55
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Consuming more potassium and protein will also help recovery (reducing muscle soreness). Tendon pain is bad and can lead to chronic issues if not treated properly. That means, if you just pop a few ibuprofen and ignore the pain it's going to get worse. –  Evan Plaice Mar 1 '13 at 1:02
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