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Am I Not Growing Muscle If I'm Not Sore?

A Guide to Muscle Growth

By Scott Herman Published 

If I’m not sore after my workout, does that mean I’m not growing muscle?

The answer is No! And to explain this, I want to talk about how your body grows muscle first; and then I want to use this information to show you how you should structure your workouts to make sure you’re gaining the maximum amount of muscle possible!

There’s nothing like that brutally sore feeling after a hardcore workout to make you feel like you’re making some serious gains! It’s like a badge of honor for us but that also makes us question if the workout was good enough if we don’t feel sore at all! You start having doubts like… Do I need to lift heavier? Do I need to work out longer? And actually the answer is no, not at all Nation!

There are three mechanisms by which muscles grow and I am going to try to explain these very complicated mechanisms in very simple terms:

Mechanical Tension

The first one is called mechanical tension. This is about the load or weight that you put on your muscles when you exercise. The tension that the weight puts on your muscles when you are going through full range of motion causes them to respond by adapting, growing and getting stronger. This is probably the one mechanism you all have heard of. The important part here is that if you want to maximize your gains, you should always challenge yourself and increase your weights and this is known as progressive overload. Since your muscles always adapt, you need to keep increasing your weights for them to keep growing. So maxing out from time to time is very important! So work on your PRs Nation!

Metabolic Stress

The second mechanism by which muscles grow is called metabolic stress. Metabolic stress happens when you perform exercises that rely heavily on anaerobic glycolysis for energy production. In simpler words, metabolic stress happens when you do lots of repetitions and sets with short rest periods. This type of technique is what gives you THE PUMP that we all love. The pump happens because with all the contractions, your veins become restricted and blood accumulates because it can’t move as easily. Also, because the blood cannot flow freely, we don’t get enough oxygen supply to the muscle tissue which is another source of metabolic stress. As a result of all this action going on, your body changes your hormonal profile and also produces compounds called metabolites, for example lactate and creatine, that signal muscle growth. So volume workouts with short rest periods are important and necessary if you want to maximize your gains!

Muscle Damage

The third mechanism for muscle growth is called muscle damage. Muscle damage occurs when you exercise and cause micro tears to your muscles. In order to fix these tears, your body creates new muscle tissue causing your muscles to grow. Muscle damage happens when you do new or different exercises, when you focus on the eccentric or descending part of the exercise and when you do exercises that put tension on the muscle when it’s in a stretched position. For example, when you do an Romanian deadlift, you are working your hamstrings while their stretched versus a leg curl where you are working the muscle while contracting it. So think that these “stretched” type of exercises are the ones that cause the most muscle damage. Another good example would be a dumbbell pullover vs a barbell bench press for chest. So another key point for you to take from this mechanism is that varying your workouts is very important in order to keep causing muscle damage.

Now let’s get back to the original question: If you worked out and you are not sore, that means you didn’t do a lot of muscle damage but you can still be growing muscle because your workout focused on one or two of the other growth mechanisms: mechanical tension and/or metabolic stress. We clear?

Now let’s talk about how you should structure your workouts. If you really want to maximize muscle growth, your workouts should incorporate all of the three mechanisms! When I create workout programs such as the Lean Muscle System that you guys probably have heard of, I think carefully and strategically to make sure I am maximizing all three.

  1. Perform compound movements like squats and deadlifts to increase your overall strength. Use heavy weights and set PRs! This is using mechanical tension to stimulate growth.

  2. Vary your exercises and change your workouts to prevent your body from getting used to them so you can cause muscle damage consistently.

  3. Mix exercises that cause tension on both stretched and contracted positions. Remember the Romanian deadlift versus the leg curl example. The stretched one will give you muscle damage, the contracted one will give you the pump and metabolic stress.

  4. Lastly, incorporate volume into your workouts. Choose a few exercises that isolate the muscle and do lots of reps and sets with short rest periods to maximize metabolic stress! Finishers are a great way to do that!

If you don’t want to or don’t have the time to do the all of the thinking, you can sign up for the next wave of my program by going to I am adding another program to the original one with all of these techniques incorporated to the workouts! The first four week program was geared towards shedding fat and building muscle or LEAN GAINS as I like to call it and this next six week program will be focused on building strength and growing muscle.

Now, let’s set all uncertainties aside about “muscle soreness” and start making more MUSCLE GAINS! #HTH

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