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The following is one experiment I have done:

Bench press to exercise my chest.


Method One:

50KG, 8~10 reps, 10 sets. During the next two days, my chest muscle did not feel as painful and sore as I had anticipated. And it took very short time to fully recover.


Method Two:

20KG, 100 reps, 1 set. During the next two days, I could feel that chest muscle was exploding, very sore. Every muscle was growing.


Why's that?
Which should be considered more effective?

  • 1
    More effective for what purpose? Size? Strength? Libido? – Alec Nov 23 '17 at 8:39
5

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is what what we usually mean when we talk about soreness. Let me explain some basics before going to the bench press example.

DOMS is caused in general by damaging the muscle especially when lengthening it at the eccentric part of the motion (ACSM, 2011) (Wikipedia, 2017). According to the wikipedia article I cited, concentric exercise is shown to have no effect on DOMS while isometric causes much less soreness.

However, you should not necessarily be sore in order for your muscles to grow.

Grug Nuckols has shared a nice table summarizing results of research on the effects of rep ranges on strength, hypertrophy and endurance.

enter image description here

By looking at the table you can see that the studies that controlled the volume of the weight lifted have one common thing. There was no difference in the hypertrophy effect. One of the studies however, reported no hypertrophy for reps in the range 20-28. Also, the study that reported hypertrophy results for as high as 100 reps with constant volume was about older untrained adults and thereby the results might be different for younger people.

It is apparent that volume plays a significant role in how much muscle you gain, where volume is the number of weight you lift by the number of reps you do.

You can also observe that higher rep ranges contributed more to endurance while lower higher rep ranges more to strength (as it is commonly thought).

Nonetheless, there is not as much material for the effect of a rep count as high as 100 reps on hypertrophy. Based on these findings one can be more confident of doing reps up to 13-15 instead of 100 with the same volume. It is also more safe to avoid injuries not doing 100 reps since you can remain focused on your technique.

In your example however, in the first case you did lifted in total around 10x9x50=4500kg. In your second example you lifted 1x100x20=2000kg. Based on the research findings above it is obvious that volume is more important than rep ranges except maybe for the case of very high rep ranges. Thereby, I suggest the first example is more effective in terms of hypertrophy.

To summarize

  • Soreness does not imply higher muscle growth and volume seems like a significant factor in muscle growth.
  • Rep ranges seem to not matter much given a constant amount of volume with a possible but not definite exception for the case of very high reps.

Thus, your first example is more effective for muscle growth because there is more volume even though you did not become as sore. Nonetheless, effectiveness also depends on your goals and the first example is better if you are after strength while the latter is better if you are after endurance.

  • DOMS, is delayed, usually 36-48 hours after the workout. The poster describes soreness that ends after two days. So, not DOMS, just normal soreness. Also, most people have felt sore after a workout (especially something new, or after being sedentary), but I would bet that many people have never done enough work to experience DOMS. So, your first sentence is not correct. – michael Nov 25 '17 at 21:25
  • DOMS doesn't start 36-48 hours after the workout. Wikipedia mentions it is felt most strongly 24-72 hours after the workout. That does not mean it can't start earlier being less intense. It is not a set in stone time window. Also the question mentions the phrase "during the next two days". This does not imply that soreness was felt right after or during the workout (acute soreness). It explicitly states that it is the next days. Also, DOMS is far more common than acute soreness so what are the chances that he explicitly stated "next two days" but meant acute soreness? Correct me if I am wrong – MattSt Nov 25 '17 at 21:37
  • The ACSM article also mentions the same time window 24-72 hours as Wikipedia. You might consider it anecdotal evidence, but my experience with soreness all the years that I am lifting and talking to other lifters also coincides with this view. – MattSt Nov 25 '17 at 21:41
  • Why do you say DOMS is more common than acute soreness? I think most people who have experienced DOMS know there is a very significant difference, and that they have experienced it very rarely compared to normal muscle soreness. For example, an athlete will probably be sore after every competition but only experience DOMS a handful of times ever. – michael Nov 25 '17 at 21:42
  • What do you mean normal muscle soreness? Please use an scientific term for "normal muscle soreness". What you refer to is simply DOMS. – MattSt Nov 25 '17 at 21:43

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