The Role of inflammation in building muscle

Inflammation’s Role in Building Muscle

Inflammation is an odd beast. We’ve been getting some questions about it in the community, but most members are approaching it dead backwards. I don’t blame them—it’s totally counterintuitive.

I mean, inflammation is bad… right? Unhealthy foods cause inflammation, and if we eat too many of them, we can wind up chronically inflamed. Healthy foods, on the the other hand, are rich in antioxidants, and if we eat enough of them, it reduces our baseline inflammation.

Similarly, being obese can cause inflammation, and is linked with higher risks of morbidity. Being lean, however, reduces inflammation and is linked with improved long-term health.

We’re interested in building muscle, though, and lifting weights causes inflammation. In fact, lifting weights causes a lot of inflammation. So much so that lifting may become your main source of inflammation.

And inflammation is bad… right?

In this article we’ll discuss why inflammation exists and what role it plays in building muscle. Once we have the general principles down, we’ll cover common questions, such as:

  • Is inflammation good or bad?
  • Should we try to reduce inflammation?
  • Are antioxidants good for muscle growth?
  • Do Advil, Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs affect muscle growth?
  • Do post-workout saunas boost muscle growth?
  • Are ice baths good for building muscle?
  • How can you fix inflamed forearms (tendonitis)?
  • What about shoulder pain and inflammation (shoulder impingement)?

Lifting Weights Causes Inflammation

The first thing to be clear about is the link between lifting weights and inflammation. Lifting weights really does cause inflammation. Our muscles begin to feel sore about a day after working out, that soreness peaks on the second day, and then begins to fade away. During this period, our muscles are inflamed. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Inflammation makes you look stronger. One benefit to this inflammation is that since the inflammation is in your muscles themselves, it makes them look a little bit bigger. This is why some people fear that they’ve lost muscle if they miss a workout or two. Their inflammation has faded away, and all of a sudden they look smaller. So in a sense, this inflammation can be good for encouraging people to stick with their habit of lifting weights—if you lift weights every couple days, you’ll look better simply due to your muscles always being a little bit inflamed. This is especially true if you’re doing full-body workouts, where all of your muscles will get inflamed after every workout.

But that inflammation is unhealthy, right? Shouldn’t we try to minimize it?

Before we try to answer those questions, let’s move on to the next problem. Inflammation hurts. This is a problem because our muscles grow best when we stimulate them 2–3 times per week, and if you’re crippled by muscle soreness, you might be tempted to delay a workout. And even if you drag yourself to the gym, you might be so sore that your workout performance suffers.

For example, let’s say that you want to bulk up, so you plan to do full-body workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But Wednesday’s workout is 48 hours after Monday’s workout, meaning that your muscles will all be at peak soreness. To make matters even worse, new lifters can be sore for up to a week. So even if you skip your Wednesday workout, your muscles might still be sore on Friday.

Again, this is an example of inflammation being bad, right?

What if we could reduce that inflammation? Would that better prepare us for our next workout?

But there’s a flaw in that line of thinking. These questions are being asked with all of the wrong assumptions. That’s why this is so counterintuitive.

Inflammation is an Adaptive Response

Yesterday afternoon, while in the middle of writing this article, my wife and I went to my son’s 6-month doctor’s appointment. He got a couple vaccines, and his doctor warned us that he might get a fever as his immune system flares up.

She gave us some fever medication to take home with us, but she told us to avoid using it unless we absolutely had to. After all, the vaccine is made to resemble a disease-causing microorganism, so it’s natural that his immune system would respond to it. In fact, that’s the whole point of the vaccine.

She reminded us that a fever is our body’s natural immune response, and we shouldn’t interfere with it unless we need to.

The fever isn’t the problem, the fever is the solution.

The more we try to micromanage our natural response, the more we anger father nature.

Now let’s go back to talking about inflammation. When we go to the gym, we stress our muscles. We do this on purpose to provoke our body’s adaptive response. Our body’s adaptive response to lifting challenging weights is to become bigger, stronger, and tougher.

Part of this adaptive response is inflammation.

Inflammation isn’t the cause of the damage. Lifting weights caused the damage. The inflammation is helping us repair that damage. If our muscles get damaged and our bodies didn’t respond, our muscles would just stay damaged. There would be no soreness or inflammation, just debilitation (study).

You’re probably familiar with that experience. In the hours after a challenging workout, your muscles are crippled. They’re damaged and depleted to the point that they’re weaker than they were before your workout. But there isn’t really any soreness yet. 

You only feel sore when your body’s immune system kicks into gear, sending extra nutrients into those muscles to help them heal and grow (study, study, study, study). This is inflammation. This is the magic of having an antifragile body that can improve itself. How amazing, right? We have the ability to improve when we encounter stress. We are the mythical Hydra.

Stimulating that inflammatory response is the whole point of lifting weights, so the last thing we want to do is minimize it. We actually want to cherish that inflammation.

When Heracles chops one of our heads off, it hurts, but then we grow two more. 

So how did Heracles finally defeat the Hydra? He chopped off the heads and then immediately cauterized the wounds. He interfered with the Hydra’s natural adaptive response. When we interfere with our inflammatory response, we’re essentially doing the same thing. We’re preventing our body from adapting.

If you’re new to lifting weights, you’re going to have a fairly extreme inflammatory response to lifting weights. You’re going to get quite sore, it’s going to be quite painful, and it can last up to a week… but that’s what allows us to make absolutely incredible adaptations:

I know this might look impossible. More about the science of newbie gains here.

As we gain more experience lifting weights, we grow tougher to the stresses that lifting inflicts. We begin to grow immune to it. Our muscles don’t get as damaged or as sore. Our immune systems don’t need to kick into gear. That’s good in the sense that we can lift all kinds of heavy things without sustaining damage or becoming sore. But it’s bad in the sense that it’s harder to stimulate new muscle growth. Our newbie gains are gone. At this point, it’s even more essential that we don’t mess up our body’s natural inflammatory response.

Let’s look at some examples of what can happen if you try mess with father nature.

Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and muscle growth

Many new lifters are crippled by muscle soreness, and many older lifters are nursing nagging aches and pains, so they take anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce their muscle soreness and joint pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Advil, Aspirin, and Aleve are especially common. But what effect do they have on muscle growth?

In this study, the participants who took 1,200mg of ibuprofen per day only gained half as much muscle as the participants who took nothing. The drugs reduce symptoms of soreness, but they did so by reducing our ability to recover and grow (study).

Note that acetaminophen (Tylenol) isn’t an anti-inflammatory drug, and so you wouldn’t run into any of these issues with it. However, there’s another downside to lifting weights while taking any form of painkiller. There’s a reason we evolved to feel pain—because it’s a useful signal. It warns us away from inflicting harm on ourselves. For example, if you put your hand on the stove, it hurts, and so you shriek and yank your hand away before you get a burn.

Let’s imagine someone with a sore shoulder who takes some Tylenol before doing their bench press. They have a shoulder impingement issue, but the Tylenol kills the pain. They start to lift, and as their shoulder cries out in agony, the lifter isn’t listening. He grinds away at his rotator cuff, making it worse and worse (study). The next workout, he really needs to take some Tylenol. No good.

This isn’t to say that you should never take painkillers, just to say that you should try to avoid becoming reliant on them on a day-to-day basis. Taking some painkillers now and then, especially in lower doses, shouldn’t affect your muscle growth at all. For example, in another study, the participants using 400mg of ibuprofen per day grew at the exact same rate as the participants taking a placebo. However, that lower dose wasn’t enough to reduce muscle soreness, either. No harm, no benefit.

This means that you might be able to take a small amount of Advil (around 400mg) to cure your headache without it having any impact on your bulking routine. Just don’t try to reduce your muscle soreness with it. After all, a dose high enough to cure your muscle soreness will also be high enough to halve your muscle growth.

Similar problems arise if you try to use painkillers to numb the pain from chronic injuries, such as inflamed shoulders, knees, or forearms. If you succeed in numbing the pain, you’ll be making yourself more vulnerable to worsening the injury. In addition to that, you might be interfering with your body’s ability to repair the damage.

Antioxidants and muscle growth

Antioxidants are a healthy way to reduce inflammation and soreness… right? Antioxidants are indeed part of a healthy diet, and yes, they’re also healthy. That’s why it’s controversial to say that they might harm our ability to build muscle. Still, recent research into antioxidant supplements like vitamin C and E have shown that they:

  • Harm our workout performance (study)
  • Prevent us from recovering properly (study)
  • Inhibit glucose metabolism and  insulin signalling (study)
  • Reduce our ability to build muscle (study)

So just like anti-inflammatory drugs, antioxidant supplements have a negative effect on muscle growth.

But keep in mind that this doesn’t make antioxidants unhealthy, and it doesn’t mean that you should avoid them. These studies were done using high doses of antioxidant supplements. You can still eat plenty of fruits and veggies, and you can still drink plenty of tea. Just don’t intentionally consume a ton of antioxidants as a strategy to reduce soreness.

To quote the researchers over at Examine.com:

Although antioxidants are an essential part of any diet, evidence is mounting that antioxidant supplements should be avoided in the hours around training time. It may also be wise to avoid daily very-high-dose antioxidant supplements if you’re aiming for maximum muscle growth.

You might even want to experiment with taking this idea a little further. Maybe you try avoiding meals rich in antioxidants right before and right after working out, and then having more antioxidants further away from your workouts. A post-workout pizza after your evening workout, but then fill your next day with fruits, veggies, and tea.

Is inflammation good or bad?

Neither. Or both. There’s a distinction between systemic inflammation that persists indefinitely, which is bad, and the acute inflammation that we get from lifting weights, which is good (study, study).

For your general health, it’s important to minimize your overall inflammation. Ideally you’d do this by addressing the root issue rather than just by taking drugs to treat the symptoms. For example, if you find yourself chronically inflamed because of poor sleep, better to fix your sleep than to start popping Advils all day long.

Here are some ways to keep your baseline inflammation low, which will improve your health and also your ability to build muscle:

  • Get plenty of good quality sleep. The better you sleep, the more testosterone and the less cortisol you’ll produce. You’ll feel less inflamed, you’ll have more energy, you’ll lift harder, you’ll recover better, and you’ll build more muscle.
  • Eat a diet that’s made up mostly of whole foods. If you’re wondering what a healthy bulking diet looks like, here’s our guide for how to eat more calories.
  • Try to minimize chronic stress and anxiety in your life. Maybe that means meditation or prayer, or spending more time with loved ones. Regular exercise is also a great way to reduce feelings of chronic stress and anxiety.

With a low baseline level of inflammation, you’ll be ready to lift weights without feeling overwhelmed by the beneficial inflammation that will hopefully follow.

Are saunas good for building muscle?

Saunas are interesting. They temporarily boost our heart rate, increasing blood flow. Some preliminary research shows that this may reduce our baseline levels of inflammation (study). Other experts note that although saunas reduce soreness, they actually seem to increase inflammation in certain areas.

Either way, saunas don’t appear to harm muscle growth. If anything, they might even improve our ability to build muscle. After all, saunas improve our ability to pump blood and nutrients into our muscles, which is very similar to the positive role of inflammation itself.

I don’t want to make too many claims about saunas and muscle growth, though. The research isn’t very conclusive yet, so we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll keep this article updated.

Do ice baths improve muscle growth?

On the other side of the spectrum, we have ice baths. Despite being the exact opposite of a sauna, they’re also commonly used to reduce muscle soreness after lifting weights. Fortunately, there’s been some good research directly looking into ice baths and their effect on muscle growth and strength. Furthermore, all of the research lines up, leaving little controversy.

Ice baths have a fairly predictable effect on muscle growth once we understand the role of inflammation. By reducing inflammation, we’re reducing our ability to adapt to the stresses of lifting weights. So, unsurprisingly, research is showing that immersing yourself in cold water after working out will reduce your muscle and strength gains (study, study).

However, as with anti-inflammatory drugs and antioxidants, we need to keep in mind that the dose makes the poison.  Having a long and painful ice bath after working out will directly harm your gains, but a short cool shower shouldn’t do much of anything. If you prefer cool showers to refresh yourself after lifting weights, no problem, just don’t take it to a painful extreme.

Inflamed Joints & Tendons, chronic injuries & other Hellish issues

Now let’s talk about another type of inflammation—the chronic inflammation that you get from joint issues, such as inflamed shoulders, or from tendon issues, such as forearm tendonitis. This inflammation isn’t good or bad. The inflammation itself is your body trying to fix the issue, which is good, but the issue itself is gradually wearing down your body, which is bad.

The stress of lifting weights can make your muscles stronger, your tendons tougher, and your bones denser. The point is to apply stress, then recover, then improve. But sometimes we don’t fully recover from that stress, leading to an accumulation of damage. This commonly happens in our shoulders, forearms, and knees. No good.

Forearm and elbow inflammation from bicep curls

Let’s start simple by using the example of bicep curls. The purpose of the lift is to stress your biceps (as well as your brachialis and brachioradialis). That stress will damage your muscles, then they’ll recover, and then they’ll grow. As you do this, the tendons and bones in your arms will grow stronger as well. And in addition to growing stronger, you’ll also grow tougher. The curls are causing inflammation, yes, but that inflammation will ultimately make you better than you were before. 

This is all well and good, but in some people, doing bicep curls with a straight barbell can cause pain in their elbow joint. Similarly, reverse curls can cause their forearm tendons to rub painfully against one another. If they persist in doing those painful bicep curls year after year, they can wind up with a cranky elbow or chronically inflamed tendons in their forearms (tendonitis), which is bad. This ongoing, relentless stress is how you wind up with chronic injuries.

Your biceps hurting as you curl is perfectly fine. That’s where you’re trying to direct the stress. But if your elbows or forearms are screaming out in pain, something is wrong. This where the “no pain, no gain” approach to lifting weights can really mess people up. Some types of pain are fine, and we need to persist through them. Other types of pain are bad. If the pain doesn’t feel right, double check. Lifting is something you should be able to enjoy for a lifetime.

Also keep in mind that lifting is often a solution, not a problem. After all, even just repetitively using a mouse and keyboard can result in forearm tendonitis. For example, Jared wound up with severe tendonitis in both forearms from doing graphic design work, but then bulking up solved the problem. And most people get cranky knees and elbows from sports, such as tennis elbow from tennis / golfer’s elbow from golf, and again, lifting weights can provide the solution.

Consider that most physiotherapy is quite similar to lifting weights, often involving plenty of resistance training and even actual weightlifting.

How to approach chronic inflammation

In Jared’s case of forearm tendonitis, he was prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs to help him manage his intense pain. Another approach is to make sure that you aren’t wearing yourself down in the first place. With something like a bicep curl, that might mean using a curl bar or dumbbells instead of a standard barbell, allowing for a smoother range of motion. That way you can strengthen your forearm tendons instead of wearing them down.

In Jared’s case, as he fought to strengthen his arms, he ran into the issue of barbell bicep curls causing his issues in his forearms and elbows. By switching to other variations, such as dumbbell and cable curls, he was able to continue strengthening his arms, which eventually allowed him to overcome his tendonitis. (I’m not trying to make lifting weights sound like a panacea. This was just one aspect of his overall lifestyle changes. He also improved his diet and sleep, which were also essential parts of strengthening his tendons.)

Shoulder inflammation from the bench press

Let’s look at another example: the bench press. If you’re doing the bench press properly, you’re going to be stressing your bones, your tendons, your forearms, your triceps, the fronts of your shoulders, and most of all, your chest. (If the bench press isn’t stimulating your chest, check out our chest exercise article).

However, bench pressing is infamous for causing shoulder impingement, which is chronic inflammation in your shoulder joint. This is something I struggled with in the past. I had trouble lifting my arm up overhead, benching hurt, and I kept on getting sharp pains that would shoot through my shoulder.

Shoulder impingement is what happens when the bones in your shoulder joint scrape against the tendons, wearing them down until they become damaged. This makes the tendons inflamed, which makes them bigger, which makes the space even tighter. That makes them grate even more against your shoulder joint.

In my case, I was skinny, desperate, and an idiot, so I ploughed forward, continuing to grind away at the tendons in my shoulders. This, of course, made my shoulder impingement worse.

One cause of the issue is benching with poor technique. For example, if you bench with an excessively wide grip, or if you don’t pull your shoulder blades down and back, or if you don’t have a proper arch in your back. I was doing all of these things.

The importance of technique and muscular balance

Another way to wind up with shoulder impingement is by doing a workout program that doesn’t balance pushing and pulling, or internal versus external rotation. This can cause your shoulder to drift out of the proper position, making it more vulnerable to impingement. I was doing this as well.

The most common ways to manage that shoulder impingement is to either stop doing pressing movements or to take anti-inflammatory pills before working out. The problem with those approaches is that avoiding presses is going to make it hard to build strong pecs and shoulders, and taking anti-inflammatory pills is going to make it hard to build a strong anything.

We shouldn’t avoid or ignore the issue, we should to overcome it.

As stupid as I was to simply keep grinding away at my shoulder, at least I didn’t make the mistake of giving up entirely. I pressed on. And fortunately, right when my shoulder issue was at its worst, I came into contact with Marco.

Marco taught me how to bench press with better technique to reduce the stress I was putting on my shoulder joint. Then he helped strengthen my back with a variety of rows and external rotation exercises, pulling my shoulders back into the proper position, creating more space in the joint. This allowed my chronic inflammation to finally fade away.

The importance of exercise variety

Most interestingly of all, he taught me the importance of exercise variety. If you continue to grind away at the same lift, such as a wide-gripped barbell bench press, then you’re going to be stressing your tendons, muscles and joints in the exact same way over and over again. At first it helps you build muscle, yes, but then it becomes like Chinese water torture, where a small stressor applied a million times to the exact same area can destroy you.

First of all, Marco gave me workouts that had a greater variety of lifts in them. I wasn’t just doing the bench press anymore, I was also doing push-ups, landmine presses, and flyes. And every few weeks, he would vary the lifts. I’d use a slightly wider grip, or switch to a slightly different exercise. This not only prevented me from wearing down my tendons, ligaments, and joints, it also gave my muscles a new type of stressor to adapt to. That sped up muscle growth and stimulated muscle fibres that I’d been neglecting, giving me fuller muscles.

Over the course of a couple months, my shoulder pain went away, my chest filled out, and my bench press climbed from 185×5 to 225×5.

If you want to see what a good chest program looks like, I recommend checking out our War Chest program. It’s a workout program designed to help you build up a strong, full chest. But it does so in a way that also includes plenty of pulling and external rotation work, which will help to keep your shoulders healthy. We also go over how to bench press safely and effectively for chest strength and growth. (It’s a full-body workout program, but it’s designed to emphasize growth in your chest, shoulders, and upper back.)

If you haven’t gained a good 20–30 pounds yet and you want to take this approach with your entire body, check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. We’ll help you gain 20+ pounds of muscle over the course of a few months, and we’ll do it in a way that will give you a stronger, tougher, and fuller body overall. Your body will surely burn with a Hellish fire, but it will be the good kind.

Even with chronic injuries, inflammation is just the symptom

Anyway, when it comes to both tendonitis and shoulder impingement, you can see that working out might be the cause, and inflammation might be the symptom. Still, that doesn’t mean that the inflammation is bad. In fact, the inflammation is your body struggling to fix the underlying issue. In many cases, it’s better to weed out that initial cause of the stress and destroy it right at its root.

That’s what worked for Jared’s forearms and my shoulders, anyway, and it’s the approach Marco takes when helping his clients rehab chronic injuries. And keep in mind that some of his clients are professional and Olympic athletes—their livelihood depends on them avoiding these career-ruining injuries.

Key points about inflammation & muscle growth

  • Inflammation is an evolved adaptive response. It’s how our bodies heal and grow.
  • Working out causes inflammation, and that’s good—it helps us build muscle.
  • Minimizing inflammation with anti-inflammatory drugs, antioxidant supplements, or ice baths will directly harm our ability to build muscle. Inflammation is our ally against stress, not our foe.
  • Saunas seem to have a mild positive effect on muscle growth, but this isn’t surprising given that they seem to improve blood flow, and may even temporarily increase inflammation.
  • Chronic inflammation in a specific area is bad and should be avoided. If you notice that your shoulders, forearms, knees, or lower back is constantly sore and inflamed, it might be a sign that your lifestyle is tearing you down instead of building you up.
  • When dealing with chronic inflammation, it might not be appropriate to attack the inflammation directly. If possible, try to weed out the root cause instead. For example, fix your shoulder impingement by improving your workout program instead of simply muting the pain with Advil.
  • Be careful about working out while on painkillers. Pain tells you what to avoid. Without that signal, you might make yourself more prone to injury.
  • It’s good for your muscles to get inflamed after a hard workout, but it’s not good to have high baseline inflammation overall. You can reduce your baseline inflammation with a good diet, plenty of sleep, and by reducing the chronic stress in your day-to-day life.

Overall takeaways about inflammation

As always, keep the big picture in mind. Try to lead a healthy lifestyle that isn’t leaving you feeling chronically inflamed. Sleep well, eat well, minimize chronic stress and anxiety.

Then, when it comes to lifting weights, embrace the inflammation and soreness in your muscles. That’s the good kind of inflammation. The whole purpose of your workout was to stress your muscles enough to provoke an adaptation. That inflammation is how your body responds to the stress. That’s how it delivers nutrients to the area, building your muscles up bigger and stronger.

Don’t take anti-inflammatory pills, don’t try to eat an overly anti-inflammatory diet, and don’t try anti-inflammatory recovery tricks like ice baths—especially right after working out. If you succeed in reducing your inflammatory response to lifting weights, you’ll be blunting your ability to build muscle.

However, you don’t need to be extreme about that advice either. Taking an Advil to cure a headache now and then won’t have any effect on your muscle growth (or soreness), nor will blending up some beets and kale into a smoothie. Just don’t make the mistake of intentionally trying to reduce your inflammation.

Finally, there are types of inflammation that we should avoid when lifting weights. We need to be mindful of wearing down your tendons, ligaments and joints in a way that results in chronic inflammation. To do this, make sure that you follow a balanced lifting program that works your body through a variety of ranges of motion. It’s important to stimulate balanced strength development so that your muscles hold your body in the correct position. You’ll not only prevent chronic injuries, you’ll also build muscle more quickly, and those muscles will be stronger and fuller.

It’s easy to imagine how you can improve your muscular balance if you build more muscle overall, such as with our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. But you can even build a more “balanced” physique while over-emphasizing certain muscles and proportions. This is essential if you want to emphasize a v-taper to improve your aesthetics, or to improve strength in a certain area for a certain sport.

If you want to emphasize certain muscles, then you just need to develop strength in the antagonist muscles as well. For example, if you want a bigger chest, that will pull your shoulders forward. So you should also develop the muscles that pull your shoulders back, down, and up, building a bigger shoulder girdle overall. This will involve some overhead pressing, some horizontal rows, and some vertical pulls (such as chin-ups). You’ll probably also want some push-ups in there so that you can strengthen your serratus muscles, which are also key to developing good shoulder health. This is the approach we take in our War Chest Program for Stubborn Chests—we go hard after chest growth, but in a way that leaves you strong and healthy.

I really hope that helps.

I’ll post an article about muscle soreness soon, which is closely related to the principles in this article. Sort of a Part Two. Stay tuned!

About Shane Duquette, BDes

W. Shane Duquette, BDes, is a science communicator with a degree in design from York University and Sheridan College. He co-founded Bony to Beastly and Bony to Bombshell, where he specializes in helping ectomorphs, hardgainers, and skinny-fat people gain muscle leanly and healthfully.

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16 Comments

  1. Jesse on February 21, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Great information Shane!! Thank you for sharing it!

    • Shane Duquette on February 21, 2019 at 12:46 pm

      My pleasure, Jesse! Glad you dug it 🙂

  2. Joshua on February 21, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    Very interesting article! My concern is that I’m not getting sore enough… I’ve already gained 10 lbs via lifting weights but I don’t know if the fact that I don’t get sore as much after workouts is a bad thing or not. I know the article suggests that getting less sore is normal but I don’t know whether I’ve almost exhausted my newbie gains already or whether there is something that I could do to be more sore, since the soreness would imply muscle growth.

    • Shane Duquette on February 21, 2019 at 1:44 pm

      That’s a really good question, and the next article is going to be on muscle soreness. And just like with inflammation, it’s a bit more nuanced than you’d probably expect. For example, muscle soreness doesn’t necessarily imply muscle growth. The muscle soreness might be related to a totally separate kind of adaptation (such as endurance). And if a muscle is TOO sore, then you might have caused enough damage that it won’t be easy to recover, let alone to grow.

      It’s hard for me to pinpoint your issue because I don’t know what program you were doing. For example, the first week of our Bony to Beastly Program has just two sets per exercise. This allows guys to ease slowly into this new type of training, helping to ensure that they aren’t causing so much damage that it will interfere with the growth response. This will reduce soreness a bit, but it should actually lead to greater gains.

      So if you’re following a program that had you diving right into fairly intense lifting, then it might even be a good thing that your soreness has decreased a bit. Perhaps the stress is now at a more optimal level.

      On the other hand, it’s important for a program to take into account that newbie gains eventually run out. Eventually we need to start increasing the variables, such as by adding extra sets. This is called periodization, and there are a bunch of different effective ways to do this. So again, it’s hard to say whether you’re running into a problem or not.

      One way to tell is to look at the outcomes you’re measuring. Are your muscles getting bigger? Are you gaining weight on the scale? Are you still lean? Are you gaining strength every workout, every week, or at least every phase? These will give you a better idea about your rate of progress than soreness would.

      But yeah, once all the other variables are taken care of, some muscle soreness is often a good sign.

      I really hope that helps. And again, the next article is on soreness 🙂

      • Joshua on February 21, 2019 at 6:19 pm

        Thanks for the reply! I’ve definitely gained weight and muscle mass since I started lifting weights, so it probably isn’t anything to be concerned about. I gained 10-12 pounds since I started five months ago… while that doesn’t sound like much, I’ve steadily gained most of the weight since I upped my calorie goal in MyFitnessPal two months ago. I definitely look more muscular since I started five months ago… it’s harder to tell whether I’ve gotten more muscular since December, but I think I have.

        I guess it may just be that I got used to the intensity of the routine. I’ve mostly been following advice and routines from my dad, who was and still is excellent at weightlifting. I went from not lifting weights (I did it before, but half-heartedly) to doing a full-body weightlifting plan three days a week and ab workouts every day… it’s funny, actually, because after the first time I did the workout plan we had to scale it back a bit because I threw up afterwards XD. I’m usually tired after working out… I’m just not sore days afterwards anymore.

        Regarding periodization: I’ve been worried that my muscles have adapted, so we did make a few minor revisions to my workout plan.

        By the way, I really enjoy reading this site… I’ve been very tempted to sign up for your program. Since both of my parents were skinny people (my dad in particular) turned weightlifters, I already have awesome coaching irl… the stuff here’s proven really interesting and informative though.

  3. Sam on February 27, 2019 at 9:09 am

    Haha, not just me emailing about this stuff then!

    Thanks man so helpful!

    Sam

    • Shane Duquette on February 27, 2019 at 7:25 pm

      My pleasure, Sam! Glad it helped 🙂

  4. Krsiak Daniel on February 27, 2019 at 11:40 am

    Great article as usual 🙂

    Btw, typos found:

    – some types of pain of fine
    – he fought to strengthen his he arms
    – won’t have any effect on your muscle growth (or soreness), Nor will blending

    • Shane Duquette on February 27, 2019 at 7:24 pm

      Thanks, Daniel. Typos fixed 🙂

  5. Ondřej on March 18, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    Hello, it may not be right to ask in this article, but I need help….

    It has been few days since I said to myself that I should do something about my body. I am 21 years old, my height is 198 cm and weight is 84kg. I do exercises with one 12kg kettlebell since my posture is terrible because of weak core and kettlebells are said to be good for this problem.

    And I have some questions for you, I hope you can help me.
    1) Kettlebell is good for full-body workout and I don’t know if I can bulk up by using just one. Is it enough when I do workout with kettlebell 3x times a week and should I feel sore in my muscles after workout?
    2) I want to eat 3500kcal each day and I don’t know if it is enough to gain weight??
    3) Also I want to use creatine, but is 5g per day enough for person of my height and weight?
    4)However my body fat percentage is about 11% – 14%. Should I bulk up first or cut weight?
    5) Last question would be that my workout with kettlebell is about 35 mins long . Is it enough time to make my muscles grow?

    Thank you for answers

    • Shane Duquette on March 18, 2019 at 9:28 pm

      Hey Ondřej,

      Yeah, this isn’t the right place for these questions, and you’ve also got a LOT of questions. In fact, it doesn’t really sound like you have questions, it sounds like you need an entire bulking program. So I’d highly, highly recommend that you consider our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. It will give you the structured workout and diet plan that you need, and it will absolutely help you build a strong core as you bulk up. It also comes with coaching in the member community, so we’ll help you with any other questions you have. This is why we made the program.

      Let me also answer your questions, though:

      1) A kettlebell is a good tool. So is a dumbbell. Mind you, it helps to have varying weights so you can progressively use heavier weights as you gain strength, forcing your body to add ever more muscle. This is why we normally recommend getting a set of adjustable dumbbells. Those would be enough to do a full bulking program. (Obviously get started with your kettlebell, though. It’s better than nothing.)

      1.5) Soreness isn’t a good indicator of whether you’ve stimulated muscle growth. For example, jogging might make your legs sore, but that’s not going to stimulate any muscle growth. If you’re doing conditioning routines with a kettlebell, you might be stimulating general fitness adaptations that would make you sore without stimulating any muscle growth. But if you aren’t sore at all, that’s not a great sign. (I’ll be posting an article on muscle soreness soon.)

      2) Choose a reasonable starting point with your calories (e.g. 20x bodyweight) and then adjust based on whether you actually gain weight or not. We recommend weighing yourself once a week and adjusting your calorie intake accordingly. If you eat 6,000 calories and you aren’t gaining weight, it’s not enough. But if you’re eating 2,500 calories and gaining a pound each week, that’s enough.

      3) 5g is enough creatine per day.

      4) If your body-fat percentage is actually under 15%, then feel free to bulk. No need to cut. That’s a healthy body-fat percentage and you’ll be able to gain muscle leanly (assuming you’re following a good workout program, eating enough protein, sleeping well, etc).

      5) The length of your workouts isn’t that important. Even a 3-hour workout might not stimulate muscle growth. On the other hand, a 20-minute workout might be effective. Hard to say.

      I hope that helps! And good luck!

      • Ondřej on March 19, 2019 at 3:45 am

        Thank you so much for replying.

        I thought about B2B program, but since I am university student I don’t have that much money and time as well. I will need to think about that properly…

        I am glad you answered so quickly, thank you again Shane.

  6. moaddo on March 23, 2019 at 7:28 pm

    great article bro; For more information, see these people how they were and how they became and the real instructions they followed incredible
    Here: http://bit.ly/2OoDZKe

  7. […] First of all, avoid taking anti-inflammatory pills such as Advil or Aspirin. If you take enough medication to reduce your muscle soreness, you’ll also be taking enough to blunt your muscle growth. After all, the soreness is connected to the recovery process. Inflammation is your body attempting to heal and adapt. We don’t want to dampen that effect, we want to enhance it. (For more on this, check out our article on the role of inflammation in building muscle.) […]

  8. Axel on May 1, 2019 at 7:02 am

    I just saw this article. It’s great, thank you very much.
    I have one question: I often get a not really painful but uncomfortable feeling in my elbows while doing curls or a lot of chin ups. Maybe an inflamation of my tendons. Do you have any recommendations how to deal with that without never doing chin ups again?
    Thanks in advance

  9. […] your training. The muscle soreness you feel the next day (or the day after that) is caused by inflammation as your body sends in nutrients to repair the damage. If everything goes right, your body will […]

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