Muscular pain and muscle growth

Muscular pain, what is it exactly? Where does it come from? How long does it last? Can I train my horse when he is suffering with muscular pain? Do the muscles of my horse grow when he has muscular pain? How fast will strength of the muscles reduce if I stop training? Equestrians ask these questions. All of these questions will be answered in this blog.

We will start with a little test!

Because we were very curious whether we could to capture muscular pain, we did a little test. We followed a mare for 3 days, we filmed her in trot going in a straight line on the street. Monday she had a jumping lesson, Tuesday and Wednesday she has been in the field throughout the day (08:00 to 19:30) and has had a recovery training on Tuesday. In trot we saw the biggest difference in movement. Below is an image with an overview of the 3 days. You can see the biggest difference in the angle of the front knee (carpus), the larger the number of the angle the less far the front knee is bent. In the picture it is visible that the mare's front knee on day 2 is bended the least, so the angle is the largest. The cause of this can be muscular pain.

We also saw a difference in the bending of the joints in the lower leg:

Again, the hip and knee were the least bended. Whiles the hock is used the same on all 3 days.

So the horse on the pictures has probably had muscular pain on day 2. The joints are least bended.

This has, of course, been a nice test for us, but to draw a real conclusion from these dates, more research will have to be done. Also there are other symptoms of muscular pain, which we have left aside.

There are several types of pain during and after the training.

During and after a training, your horse can experience 3 different types of pain:

1. Acidification: Hereby lactate is not able to neutralize the acid which comes free during a training.

2. Muscle pain: swelling and inflammation which eventually leads to the wanted muscle growth, is visible 1 to 2 days after the training.

3. "Tendon and joint pain": This pain will your horse experience when you don’t use a good warming up during and after a training.

Muscular pain is restoring the muscles.

In the build-up phase of your training in which you want to grow your horse's muscles, you train above the fitness level. This causes cracks in the muscles, which is called micro-damage. The next step is an inflammation, which leads eventually to muscle growth. In addition, muscle proteins are also produced, these provide recovery and growth.

A horse with muscular pain will sometimes feel somewhat stiff in the beginning of the training, He will feel less supple and has more difficulty in flexing and bending. The horse will also be relucted to go forward.

After muscular pain comes muscle growth.

As you train longer at the same intensity, the muscular pain decreases and muscle growth (called hypertrophy) increases.

Presumably a muscle grows as follows:

In the first week when you start with a more intensive training schedule, your horse will have a relatively large amount of micro-damage and a little muscle growth. The muscle will create more recovery proteins, less growth proteins.

If you have trained at the same intensity for 3 weeks, you’ll see more muscle growth and less micro-damage.

After 10 weeks of training at the same intensity, the speed of muscle growth is even more increased and the muscular pain even more diminished. The proteins that the muscle produces will now be more focused on muscle growth.

This theory is taken from a humane research.

Muscular pain is therefore needed indirectly for muscle growth, but muscular pain only will not cause muscle growth. It is the chain reaction that ensures muscle growth when you train at the same level for 2 to 3 weeks.

How long does muscular pain actually take?

In the case of micro-damage, your horse can experience the largest amount of muscular pain 24 to 48 hours after the training. During this period the process to restore the muscles is namely at its peak. During this process, inflammatory cells are needed to repair the muscle. This can sometimes be visible in hot and swollen muscles.

Example 1 building up training:

On Monday you followed a dressage lesson with an intensity of 80, while your fitness level is 40. You have chosen this because you want to have a higher level of fitness. The best time to train again is then on Wednesday. This is because the time (24h), when muscle pain is at its peak has than elapsed. In the intervening days you can do light gymnastic exercises, this is called recovery training. These trainings are under your fitness level. The screenshot along this shows how the training and fitness level looks in the IPOS app. The line is the fitness level and the bars are the trainings.

Example 2 Competition:

It's Friday today, on Sunday you have a dressage competition. Actually you still have a dressage lesson planned and you know that these trainings are always very intensive for your horse. If you do this it could be that your horse has muscular pain at the time of the competition, so he cannot do his dressage test as he normally can. The best way to do this is to keep the intensity level of your dressage training low, and make sure you don’t come above your fitness level. This way you prevent your horse from having muscular pain on Sunday. The competition itself should not be above your fitness level.

What happens if you are going to train again too quickly?

The chances of (minor) injuries will increase if you train too early and too intense. When you train while your horse still has muscular pain, the micro-damage in the muscles accumulates. The body has not yet been given the time to repair the damage.

If you train too heavy (for example a training load of 80 while your horses fitness level is 40) whilst your horse has not recovered yet from a previous training, your horse may show signs of disobedience, and may not be willing to go forward of bend like usual. The IPOS app can help you to load your horse the right amount on the right day. The app calculates your horses fitness level. In between discipline specific training you add a light, recovery training. These training are typically at or below your fitness level.

What happens if you train too late?

It's never bad to plan an extra day of rest. The muscle mass only decreases after 2 weeks of rest. The longer you wait with exercising the faster the muscle mass decreases. So, it takes quite a long time for muscle mass or muscular strength to diminish. With a good training schedule you will find out that in the end you may not have to train as much or as heavy as you are used to and still obtain a higher level of fitness.


· Muscular pain is the recovery process of muscle damage from training.

· The increase in muscles is fastest after 10 or more weeks of training.

· There are several types of pain during or/and after a training.

· Muscle pain is the worst between 24 and 48 hours after the training.

· When you train too early after an intense training, the muscle damage accumulates and the risk of injuries increases.

· Only after 2 weeks with no training the muscle mass takes off.

· After 3 to 4 weeks the muscular strength decreases.


Burgerhout, W. G. (2008) Afscheid van melkzuur, deel 1 27: 322.

Campbell, N. A., Reece, J. B., Urry, L. A., Cain, M. L., Wasserman, S. A., Minorsky, P. V., & Jackson, R. B. (2014). Biology: A Global Approach. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

Carvalho, A., Caserotti, P., Carvalho, C., Abade, E., & Sampaio, J. (2014). Effect of a Short Time Concentric Versus Eccentric Training Program on Electromyography Activity and Peak Torque of Quadriceps. Journal of Human Kinetics, 41(1), 5–13.

Cheung, K., Hume, P. A., & Maxwell, L. (2003). Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Sports Medicine, 33(2), 145–164.

Clayton, H.M. (1991). Conditioning sport horses. Mason, USA: Sport Horse Publications.

Damas, F., Phillips, S. M., Libardi, C. A., Vechin, F. C., Lixandrão, M. E., Jannig, P. R., Ugrinowitsch, C. (2016). Resistance training-induced changes in integrated myofibrillar protein synthesis are related to hypertrophy only after attenuation of muscle damage. The Journal of Physiology, 594(18), 5209–5222.

Damas, F., Libardi, C. A., & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2017). The development of skeletal muscle hypertrophy through resistance training: the role of muscle damage and muscle protein synthesis. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 118(3), 485–500.

Hinchcliff, K. W., Kaneps, A. J., & Geor, R. J. (2008). Equine Exercise Physiology: The Science of Exercise in the Athletic Horse. Edinburgh: Saunders/Elsevier.

Hwang, P. S., Andre, T. L., McKinley-Barnard, S. K., Morales Marroquín, F. E., Gann, J. J., Song, J. J., & Willoughby, D. S. (2017). Resistance Training–Induced Elevations in Muscular Strength in Trained Men Are Maintained After 2 Weeks of Detraining and Not Differentially Affected by Whey Protein Supplementation. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(4), 869–881.

Martini, F. H., Nath, J. L., & Bartholomew, E. F. (2018). Fundamentals of Anatomy & Physiology, Global Edition. In 3-2 Organelles within the cytoplasm perform particular functions (11de editie, pp. 117–129). England: Pearson.6

Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857–2872.

VanMeter, K. C., & Hubert, R. J. (2013). Gould’s Pathophysiology for the Health Professions (5de editie). Canada: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Subscribe to our mailinglist
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Instagram