Muscle soreness is not the only indicator of a good workout.
In fact, it may not be something you should be chasing at all.
When you fully understand what muscle soreness is, you may find that it isn’t what you are needing to reach your goals.
And if you’re like me, you would rather not hobble around your house or crash down onto the toilet seat if you can help it.
So now let’s chat about what soreness is and means in terms of workouts and goals.
Muscle soreness is a side effect of the stress put on muscles during activities, or movements, it is not used to.
Sore muscles after a workout is known as DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness).
This soreness usually shows up 1-2 days after exercise (hence the delayed part) and can last anywhere from 1-4 days, typically.
Exercise you aren’t used to, or new a new stimulus on the body creates small micro-tears in the muscle tissue, which leads to inflammation to help heal the tissue.
That is what causes the soreness within the muscle.
There isn’t necessarily a “good” or “bad” characteristic of being sore.
It’s just, soreness. There doesn’t need to be any other emotion or thoughts added to it.
Muscle soreness is a way of our body letting us know that we did damage, which can be a good sign if you are looking for muscle building or fitness goals.
It gives us the opportunity to see if certain exercises are recruiting the right muscles, or if you are adding enough of a stimulus to make change to the muscle.
But make sure you pay attention to the type of soreness you are feeling.
If you are feeling sore immediately after exercise in a specific area, you may want to check in and make sure there is no injury.
But if you are sore in a general area like your “quads” or “glutes” then typically that is DOMS from exercise.
You should not be sore after every single workout.
If you are sore after every workout, that means you are stressing the body too much and not recovering properly.
So you are either doing too much volume for you to recover from, or you are constantly doing new things that the body has to recover from.
The volume can be helped by just scaling back until you build up the stamina to increase volume and recover well from it.
If you have a goal of building muscle or “toning” then you want to do a progressive program. Which means new exercises should only be added to your training every 4, 6, 12 weeks depending on program duration.
So if you are doing random workouts, jumping around too much, not progressing properly it is going to leave you sore all the time.
To combat soreness, make sure you are eating enough food to repair the tissue, sleeping adequate hours (7-9) and drinking water to flush your system.
You should only be sore when trying new exercises or workouts – working muscles that maybe you aren’t used to working.
There is also research out that found chronic DOMS can negatively impact your strength goals in the long term.
It may interfere with recovery during workouts, and going into workouts sore is going to impair the quality of your next workout.
It is also important to note that if you are new to something, you are going to be sore. So if you are trying something new, take it easy as you start so you aren’t debilitatingly sore.
Same goes with time off.
If you haven’t exercised in a few weeks, months – make sure you take it easy to start because you are going to be sore.
So again, if you are sore after every workout, you need to re-evaluate your program and your recovery methods.
The only reason you should be sore after every workout is if your goal is muscle soreness.
But if your goal is muscle strength, endurance, toning, agility etc, then soreness should not be your goal.
A “good” workout can be ranked on a number of things – intensity, weights lifted, speed, following program in its entirety, completion, showing up.
A good workout is going to be different for everyone, so don’t feel like you need to be like someone else.
Sweating, soreness, heart rate, calories burned etc are all markers people tend to use to determine a “good” workout, but do they push you towards your goals?
Sweating is different for everyone, but if you don’t sweat at all but you did everything in the program and increased your weights – was the workout not good?
Calories burned for everyone, but if your goal isn’t weight loss does it matter how many calories you burned?
Soreness is different for everyone, so if you crush your workout and your muscles are tired/fatigued after but you don’t get sore, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great workout you added to your bank.
So if you are trying to tie soreness to meaning you will see results or reach your goals – that isn’t true.
There is nothing wrong with not being sore after a workout, but at some point there should be a level of soreness.
Soreness lets us know that we put enough of a stimulus on the body to create change, but it can also be overdone like we talked about above.
So when we do a new type of exercise, we are sore, right? We use muscles we don’t usually use which leaves them worked, and us sore.
This is also the same with regular exercise you partake in.
If you are a runner – you don’t get sore from running unless you do a longer distance, or faster speed, or new route. Because you are changing something in your routine.
If you strength train – you are sore if you increase weights, add a new exercise, add more reps.
Soreness should occur when you put a new stimulus on the body/muscles.
But not being sore is also okay. If you didn’t change anything in your workout routine, you aren’t going to be sore.
If you are a well trained individual and are used toe exercising, you likely won’t be sore often.
But – if you are working out 3-5 times per week and aren’t sore for months on end…then you need to check in with your workouts.
You need to make sure you progress your workout in some capacity so you can see the results you want to see. Because results only happen if enough a stimulus is put on the body to illicit change.
So 2, 3, 4 months go by and you haven’t changed anything…you need to.
I hope this answered some of your questions on muscle soreness.
Just remember what your goals are, then then track your markers that make sense for you.
Don’t listen to those on social media or training in gyms when they tell you sweat and soreness are the only indicators of a good workout.
The only thing those are indicators of is them being a shitty trainer.
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