Do You Really Need ‘Pain’ to Incur Muscle ‘Gains’?
Dr. Edythe Heus
July 25, 2023

Neither exercise novices nor certified fitness fans are strangers to delayed onset muscle soreness.

Acronymed DOMS and also called “muscle fever”, it is the tender, aching feeling we get after a particularly challenging workout.

While some people hate it, others wear it like a badge of honor signifying how hard they crushed it at the gym.

Why? Because they believe that the muscle damage preceding DOMS is necessary for muscle growth.

But whether you hate or love the pain, nobody can deny that DOMS is a major hindrance to athletic and everyday performance.

So is it possible to work out without feeling sore and still get those gains? Let’s find out!

What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), and What Are Its Causes?

Delayed onset muscle soreness is the pain you feel after engaging in exhaustive or unfamiliar physical activity.

Along with the pain, DOMS usually comes with swelling, loss of muscle function, and decreased range of motion. These symptoms commonly manifest within 24 hours after exercise and peak 24 to 72 hours later.

The precise mechanisms underlying DOMS remain unknown. It is generally thought to be caused primarily by mechanical injury from exercise. However, scholars have posited other precursors for DOMS, such as:

  • lactic acid buildup,
  • muscle spasm,
  • connective tissue damage, and
  • local inflammatory responses.

Many scholars also point to eccentric exercises—movements where muscles are lengthened under tension or load—as the type of training method that causes DOMS the most. That’s because the force that muscles produce is less than the load they are under during eccentric exercise.

However, eccentric contractions do not usually happen in isolation, whether in sports or exercise. They are paired with concentric contractions. Furthermore, eccentric movements occur in a shorter time frame in the stretch-shortening cycle of muscles compared to concentric movements.

Overall, further research needs to be conducted to pinpoint how and why DOMS occurs.

Is DOMS a Friend or a Foe?

DOMS has been shown to impair athletic and training performance by:

  • reducing range of motion,
  • impeding force production of affected muscles, and
  • diminishing proprioceptive function.

A premature return to sports or exercise following DOMS also increases the risk of injury, as DOMS can alter muscle sequencing and recruitment patterns.

But these consequences must be worth it if you’re gaining muscle strength, right?

Unfortunately for those who love the pain, various studies have refuted the claim that muscle damage (and the DOMS that follows suit) is necessary for muscle growth.

A controlled trial divided participants into two groups. Both were subjected to the same amount of total work, but one was exposed to damaging bouts of exercise. At the end of the study, both groups showed equal strength and growth factor increases.

Another study tracked muscle damage and inflammation among elderly individuals undergoing resistance exercise using eccentric contractions. The researchers found neither damage nor inflammation to be preconditions for muscle growth.

Furthermore, a team of sports scientists argues that the initial increase in muscle protein synthesis that accompanies muscle damage and DOMS is due to muscle repair and does not contribute to muscle hypertrophy.

Thus, it’s probably high time to trash the saying: ‘no pain, no gain.’

Why There is No Pain, But All The Gains in Rev6

If you’re a high-performing athlete or simply a biohacker looking to reap the gains of exercise without any of the DOMS, then you’ve stumbled upon the right place.

Here at Rev6, we help you bear weight over an organized full-body tensional network.

In other words, we remodel the fascial system (which supports and connects all of our cells and muscles) to help you optimize your movement.

Why? Because we never really use any of our muscles in isolation to complete a movement. You’re not just using your arms when you bend over to pick laundry off the floor. You’re also activating your entire posterior chain of muscles.

When you train with us, you will learn how to engage your entire body while doing the squats such that your quads don’t feel the burn the next day. Nothing’s overworking, and nothing is in danger.

Full disclosure: you may feel sore after a Rev6 class because you’ll be using muscle fibers you’ve not used before. You will also feel the densifications in your fascia melt away. But these sensations do not last as long as DOMS from other workouts, and neither are they as debilitating.

The pain-free magic of Rev6 workouts also lies within the fascia’s function in blood circulation and waste removal. The better delivery of nutrients to the muscles and the elimination of accumulated waste products mitigate the soreness we feel post-exercise.

If you’re skeptical, we encourage you to give our free 30-minute foundations class a try!


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