There is much skepticism in the scientific community about whether the occurrence of post exercise pain (Delayed onset muscle soreness), is related to the measure of muscle growth. In this blog entry I will question the relationship and even support the myth behind no pain, no gain with scientific research.
We are all very familiar with the effect of post exercise pain known as DOMS, and I for one agree that muscular pain is a gauge of adaption and growth but doesn’t necessarily have to occur at every workout.
Over the years I have invested much of my time towards understanding effective programming and trialed numerous advanced workout routines. It was personally very common for me to undertake a new routines, then post workout begin to endure muscle soreness from anywhere between 3-5 days. This was my natural rhythm of training cycles and “Yes”, I would over the course of the weeks get stronger build muscle and have a reduced effect of muscle soreness though still present.
It made me always question the Myth “No pain No gain”! Is this truly a measure of a great workout or am I just genetically prone to training pain?
What science reveals
In the book Strength and Conditioning: Biological Principles and practical application the conclusion behind the measure of DOMS and muscle growth is this. “The magnitude of DOMS does not reflect the magnitude of muscle damage”, basically in short that statement establishes that the no pain no gain training plan does relate to muscle growth but not relative to a given amount of pain equal to muscle growth.
As both an athlete and professional personal trainer I was always inclined to disagree and say that there has to be a measure of pain to growth, but the evidents is sound regarding this comparative measure of DOMS. Though another statement retrieved from the strength and conditioning book concluded, “It is not muscle damage due to eccentric contractions, but eccentric contractions per set that are responsible for the greater muscle hypertrophy and muscle strength gain conferred by eccentric training”.
As a bodybuilder we consider hypertrophy driven workouts to be a key element in our training, we change training modalities and use different concentric and eccentric tempos with a variety of different training principles. Often we focus heavily on eccentric control, which is known as the negative phase of an exercise movement. Following that statement made about eccentric contractions per set, what I have understood is that bouts of eccentric exercise have been known to increase the effect of DOMS .(Balnave & Thompson 1993).
Now the question has to be asked if the eccentric movement stimulates greater hypertrophy and strength, though it encourages greater DOMS. Can the effect of DOMS perhaps be a signature response of an appropriately measured eccentric workout?
Science Goes full circle
So now we have gone full circle on this myth about no pain no gain!
It is not the relationship of muscle pain that is equivalent to muscle growth, but through eccentric training we are more likely to sustain muscle pain that can possibly increase muscle hypertrophy and strength.
So to an extent DOMS is a measure and has to be present!
To further back my claim here is a recent journal to support this statement. “Because muscle damage is theorized to mediate hypertrophic adaptations, there is some justification to actively seek muscle damage during a training session if maximal hypertrophy is the desired goal”.
No pain no gain lives on as a training ethos
We understand No pain No gain is an old thought process behind training, though in our current fitness society it comes up quite often. I have come to agree that the words are symbolic, not in a literal sense but a training ethos. If we didn’t have these terms what would be presented in its place today, I could only imagine! Maybe the terms train smarter not harder, believe and succeed, no science no gains the word combinations are infinite. Though there is one thing certain with the claim no pain no gain and that is, it pushes limitations in human training performance. It seeks a so-called conclusion in training perfection, and some how pain is that measure, result and reward.
We can neither approve or disprove the claim that DOMS ( muscle pain) is a direct result of muscle growth and strength gain.
If you wish to read more visit the links provided:
Crossfit Journal article: Muscle damage and soreness
Tom Venuto talks in depth about DOMS
 Kazunori Nosaka, Edith Cowan University, School of exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Joondalup, WA, Australia Exercise –induced Muscle Damage and delayed-onset Muscle soreness (DOMS). Chapter 2.6, 2.6.6 Conclusion. Strength and Conditioning: Biological Principles and Practical Application. (2011). 25/1/15
 Kazunori Nosaka, Edith Cowan University, School of exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Joondalup, WA, Australia Exercise –induced Muscle Damage and delayed-onset Muscle soreness (DOMS). Chapter 2.6, 2.6.6 Conclusion. Strength and Conditioning: Biological Principles and Practical Application. (2011) . 25/1/15
 Brad J. Schoenfeld, MSc, CSCS, CSPS1 and Bret Contreras, MA, CSCS2, Department of Health Science, Lehman College, Bronx, NY; and School of Sport and Recreation, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand. Is post exercise muscle soreness a valid indicator of muscular adaptions? . Journal. Effect of eccentric contraction velocity on muscle damage in. PDF. 25/1/15
One thought on “Is no pain no gain a true measure of a great workout?”
Great post. I think after a great work out it’s important to actually supplement right whether it’s with diet, or with actual supplements. When I was trying to lose weight, I would supplement a fat burner after I worked out to increase my chances of reaching the goal I wanted. So pain is a good indicator that you had a good work out, but it’s what you do outside of the gym that’s going to get you the results you want