DOMS or Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness, everyone who trains regularly has to suffer from it. But very recently I came across an article that says muscle growth isn't at all related to muscle soreness. So the ideology of certain trainers 'No pain No again' goes down the drain.

My questions, If DOMS is not a good indicator then how do we tell if the workouts we are doing are enough to grow?

Secondly, is it bad to workout when you are seriously hit by DOMS?

Some DOMS treatments are hot/cold showers and massage, I'd love to hear your variations.

3 Answers 3


The only thing DOMS has indicated routinely is:

  • I'm working my muscles differently than I have before (usually a new variation of exercise)
  • I've significantly increased either the intensity or volume of my training

It only comes while your body is getting used to doing work. When you gradually increase volume or intensity, you may not get any DOMS or it is very mild.

Building muscle or strength is related to the training stress you impose on your body. As you gradually build intensity and volume, your body will respond by getting bigger and stronger.

How do I know if I did enough?

There's a few modes of strength training:

  • Work Capacity Training -- a mode that is employed by many body builders in some form or another. Essentially, body builders stay away from their 1RM and work by adding reps or sets, or playing with the timing of the lifts (i.e. the speed in which they move the bar and whether they pause).
  • Building Strength -- a mode that is featured by many canned programs such as Strong Lifts, Wendler 5/3/1, etc. The focus is on lifting heavier and heavier weights over time.
  • Peaking -- a mode that prepares a strength athlete to demonstrate their strength in competition. It is designed to make the strength athlete ready to handle weights heavier than they normally train with, but still be fully recovered and ready to demonstrate strength.

For people who don't train for a competition, they can be served very well by cycling between building work capacity and building strength. Doug Hepburn was a power lifter who had two routines that he used to get stronger, one was focused on adding more volume (work capacity), and the other was focused on getting stronger. His basic advice was to use one program until you couldn't make any more improvements on it, then switch and use the other program until your progress stopped.

You'll notice that there is only mention of the weight, sets, and reps you need to perform. There is no mention of DOMS. This is because the combination of the training stress and recovery from the training stress is what builds strength and size over time. There's a pretty good treatment of the concepts in the book "Programming for Strength Training" by Mark Rippetoe and Dr. Lon Kilgore.

Training with severe DOMS

There is no reason to skip training just because you are really sore with DOMS. I've found that training even though I'm sore will help flush blood through the sore muscles and cause the DOMS to dissipate during your training (and sometimes afterwards). Many times I've had no loss of strength or ability just because I was sore.

If you find your ability to do work is diminished, then your muscles are fatigued. This is related to the energy stored in the muscle being depleted or the muscle needing more time to completely recover. In this case, temporarily lowering the volume (called a deload) can help you get the blood flowing and keep practice up while still allowing your body to recover.

"No Pain No Gain"

This really came about as a rallying cry for trainers and coaches to get their clients to push through the way they feel and do the work they need to get done. It's more about motivation than any guiding aspect to know when you've trained hard enough.

The problem with training until you feel pain all the time is that you end up compounding fatigue, which not only causes your technique to break down, but puts your body into a state where it is prime for injury.

  • That's very good. But if you're severely sore, isn't that an indication that your muscles are (or will be) fatigued and thus prone to accidents? Mar 20, 2014 at 19:10
  • Potentially not, but the last article I linked to (compounding fatigue) has a lot of good information to understand yourself better and what to do when you are fatigued. I have trained when very sore and had no problems some days, and other days I have had problems. It's not a sure bet. Mar 20, 2014 at 19:33
  • Thanks for all the information, but I am slightly left confused, DOMS is a good sign that you have increased your intensity, also bad because it may cause fatigue. So does that leave us with workout so that you just feel good the next day and increase wright slowly over weeks? Mar 21, 2014 at 6:30
  • More accurately, DOMS can mask fatigue. I'm not sure of the mechanisms of DOMS itself, some hypotheses attribute it to lactic acid buildup in your muscles, other say that isn't true but don't really provide an understandable explanation. Fatigue is something you will deal with over time with weight training--it's one of the primary reasons we stop making progress. DOMS is ignore-able pain. But yes, the best approach is to keep making progress in either weight or volume week to week or month to month. Mar 21, 2014 at 12:10
  • OK thanks! Doing a number of repetitions change per week for my current plan. It was just one personal training session which caused a lot of sore muscles, lasted 4 days on biceps and 2 on upper back. Mar 22, 2014 at 5:02

According to Wikipedia, DOMS doesn't cause muscle growth; both are simply unrelated effects that occur from a single source: working the muscles harder than they are used to. Other effects include reduced range of motion, swelling, and immediate reduced strength

DOMS varies amongst individuals; some recover fast while others recover slower. And yes, a warm shower, sauna, or massage (if you can afford it) after such workout reduce the DOMS effect.

How do you tell if the workout is enough to grow? A program such as Strong Lift believes that as long as you increase the weights you are carrying (great recommendation), you'll grow muscles. If you are using lower weights and higher repetitions, you should grow your muscles as well. So basically, your muscle growth isn't determined by how sore your muscles were.

If you are seriously hit by DOMS, chances are your muscles are sore and your strength will be lower. As a result, your risk of injury is higher. Also, you might not be able to work your muscles as hard as they need. So, the benefit might not be much.

Personally, a warm shower usually cures most soreness after an exercise session. And of course, resting the muscles the following day.

Now, go burn some goo :).


Muscle growth actually occurs during the recover phase. Ie when you work a muscle hard, you create small tears In the muscle fibre. When it recovers, it recovers a bit stronger?

I believe DOMS is a good indicator of a good workout. It's okay to train whilst suffering with DOMS, but try to work a different muscle group to allow for the recovery repair stage to happen. Getting the blood flowing round the body is good to help sore muscles, as is gentle stretching.

However, do make sure you incorporate 1 rest day a week into your programme. For mental and physical recovery, and for growth to occur

  • DOMS may be a good sign, but recently in one of my workouts a trainer made me work so hard on my biceps I am still feeling the pain on the third day. I feel this kind of intensity is bad for the muscles... Mar 21, 2014 at 6:32

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