Muscle damage and muscle remodeling: no pain, no gain?

J Exp Biol. 2011 Feb 15;214(Pt 4):674-9. doi: 10.1242/jeb.050112.


Skeletal muscle is a dynamic tissue that responds adaptively to both the nature and intensity of muscle use. This phenotypic plasticity ensures that muscle structure is linked to patterns of muscle use throughout the lifetime of an animal. The cascade of events that result in muscle restructuring - for example, in response to resistance exercise training - is often thought to be initiated by muscle damage. We designed this study to test the hypothesis that symptomatic (i.e. detectable) damage is a necessary precursor for muscle remodeling. Subjects were divided into two experimental populations: pre-trained (PT) and naive (NA). Demonstrable muscle damage was avoided in the PT group by a three-week gradual 'ramp-up' protocol. By contrast, the NA group was subjected to an initial damaging bout of exercise. Both groups participated in an eight-week high-force eccentric-cycle ergometry program (20 min, three times per week) designed to equate the total work done during training between the groups. The NA group experienced signs of damage, absent in the PT group, as indicated by greater than five times higher levels of plasma creatine kinase (CK) and self-reporting of initial perceived soreness and exertion, yet muscle size and strength gains were not different for the two groups. RT-PCR analysis revealed similar increases in levels of the growth factor IGF-1Ea mRNA in both groups. Likewise, the significant (P<0.01) increases in mean cross-sectional area (and total muscle volume) were equal in both groups. Finally, strength increases were identical for both groups (PT=25% and NA=26% improvement). The results of this study suggest that muscle rebuilding - for example, hypertrophy - can be initiated independent of any discernible damage to the muscle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arizona
  • Creatine Kinase / blood
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / genetics
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism
  • Male
  • Muscle Strength / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / cytology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / growth & development*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / injuries*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Young Adult


  • DNA Primers
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Creatine Kinase