Do You Need to Get Sore to Build Muscle?

DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

You know it as that soreness you feel the day after, and even more the 2nd day after a hard workout. DOMS is caused by microscopic tears that happen in the muscle tissue during exercise. Those tears are necessary so when the muscle heals itself, it will come back a little bigger and stronger. Soreness can happen from a particularly intense workout or even after you do a workout or exercise that’s simply new for you. A very common cause of DOMS comes from eccentric contractions – imagine the downward phase of biceps curl or the downward phase of push up or pull up. And from downhill activity. Yes, running down a hill or down stairs causes more DOMS than running up!


Do you need to get sore muscles to make progress

For some people it’s so unpleasant, it turns them off from exercising altogether or just from ever trying anything new. But for most people, it’s a badge of honor that says “I pushed it!”

Muscle soreness is not always necessary for you to improve your fitness level.

Occasional soreness is a good thing.  It can be an indication you pushed to the next level.  Avoiding it altogether can slow down progress and eventually lead to a plateau. To improve the strength of a muscle, it does need to get fatigued to where the reps get very hard to do without losing form. For people who are very focused on avoiding muscle soreness, it may take more time to see improvements and gain muscle. If you’re one of these people, you will just have to progress very s l o w l y. And for some people, like me, soreness is almost always inevitable. There are those people who have more sensitive nerves and experience more soreness than others. In other words, all things being equal as far as fitness level, age, and workout, one person may feel more DOMS than another. The severity with which DOMS is felt can even vary depending on the medication a person is taking.

Therefore, muscle soreness is not a good predictor of how hard a workout is. Just like sweat is not a good predictor of how hard you exercise, but that is a topic for another blog! In order to increase muscle mass, you must overload the muscle and gradually increase the amount of resistance, reps or time and intensity. For anyone who is just a hater of that discomfort, it will take more patience to progress. But I also believe, if taken in regular small doses, it can be something you can get used to. Think of it as building up tolerance.

There are a few protocols you can do to help prevent undue muscle soreness.

Foam rolling before and, or after the workout, can help to minimize soreness. A good pre- workout stretch helps, as do hot and cold plunges or a sports massage. Some protein before and after the workout can help the muscle repair process.

There are some great foam rollers at  I have a partnership with them that offers a a 15% discount to my followers at no cost to you.  For 15% off your order, use my discount code: brown15 at checkout.

But ladies, if you have a big event coming up and you need to be agile or simply wear some high heels, you may want to avoid doing a hard leg workout or a downhill run at least 2 days beforehand.


Jill Brown
Jill Brown
Hi, I'm JillI am a Los Angeles based Fitness + Nutrition Coach. With 20+ years of experience in teaching, training and continuing my education, I have transformed thousands of lives through fitness and healthy lifestyle changes.