Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World


Soreness

by Mark Rippetoe | September 08, 2016

team push-ups

Soreness does not make you stronger. Soreness does not make you bigger. You should not LiveSore, because not only is it counterproductive to your strength progress and your health, it feeds the wrong psychology – penance is Religion, not training.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is currently understood as an inflammatory response to the eccentric component of an exercise. The actin-myosin crossbridges are damaged by the separation under tension as the sarcomere elongates during the eccentric phase of the muscle contraction, and the damage is repaired during the inflammatory cascade (for more information about the microanatomy involved start here)

When you are sore, you have done muscular work with an eccentric component to which you are not adapted. For example, cycling has no eccentric component, and although cyclists new to barbell training may be fairly strong, they get incredibly sore the first time they squat due to the eccentric component of the movement. And pushing the prowler doesn’t make you sore, no matter how hard you work, because pushing a sled lacks an eccentric component.

Since productive barbell exercises include an eccentric phase in their movement patterns, some soreness is always the result of productive training. But the soreness itself is not the aspect of the training that makes you stronger – the programmed increase in the load over time does that. The soreness is merely an unfortunate but necessary side-effect of having done barbell exercise.

Training specifically for soreness is foolish, since it indicates nothing more than unadapted-to eccentric work. The best illustration of this is 100 bodyweight (“air”) squats done as a single set. Anyone who is actually capable of doing this will get both excruciatingly sore and absolutely no stronger as a result. The soreness will be the product of the negative phase of 100 continuous reps, despite the fact that the load is only your bodyweight. And because the load is only your bodyweight – and because you’re already strong enough to do it 100 times – you cannot increase your force production capacity by doing 100 bodyweight squats. You can only get sore.

And being sore all the time is also foolish, because broadly-distributed DOMS is system-wide inflammation. Just like having the flu. Neither the flu nor 100 air squats makes you stronger, and in fact the catabolic effects of massive inflammation actually detrains strength. And doing this to yourself voluntarily – over and over again, week after week, month after month, for years at a time – takes its toll on your health.

People who do this habitually have either learned the wrong facts about exercise and its benefits, or they are trying to pay off a debt they think they owe, usually to themselves. This type of OCD is outside my experience, so I’ll leave it to the psychologists.

Productive training entails some soreness, and everybody that trains gets used to the idea that getting stronger over time is accompanied by soreness – not the debilitating, crippling kind that makes normal movement difficult, but the mild soreness that accompanies a PR squat. To the extent that PRs are enjoyable, this soreness is welcome. It is possible to train for months and double your squat without being terribly sore at any point in the process.

But doing stupid workouts that cannot make you stronger and have not made you anything but sore indicates that you either don’t know what you’re doing, or that your priorities are other than getting stronger. If I were you, I’d reevaluate my priorities.


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